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Cannibal! The Musical
Book, Music and Lyrics by Trey Parker
Directed by Suki Peters
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
November 29, 2014

Cast of Cannibal! The Musical Photo: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

Cast of Cannibal! The Musical
Photo: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre

“It’s a Sphadoinkle day”, sings the lead character early on in Cannibal! The Musical, implying that that’s a good thing. Whatever “Shpadoinkle” means, this show is it. In the usual vein of goofy, hilariously over-the-top screen-to-stage performances that Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre is known for, Cannibal! The Musical never ceases to entertain. With a colorful production and an energetic cast, this show is sure to be devoured by appreciative audiences.

This production has its roots in a low-budget 1993 film written by and starring eventual South Park co-creator Trey Parker when he was still in college at the University of Colorado, Boulder. It co-starred his future collaborator Matt Stone and several other college friends, and it has apparently developed a loyal cult following, although I had never heard of it before seeing this show.  The stage version has many of the hallmarks of Parker and Stone’s later work, including raunchy and irreverent humor, crazy musical numbers, jokes about Mormons, and more.  It tells the highly-embellished true story of Alferd Packer (Keith Parker), who was tried for murder and cannibalism as the sole survivor of an ill-fated expedition from Utah to Colorado. Beginning with a sensationalist filmed account of a rampaging Packer basically eating his victims alive, the show then segues into a courtroom scene, as Prosecutor Mills (John Foughty) is peddling the film’s account as fact, and Packer is sentenced to hang.  As he sits in his jail cell, he’s interviewed by reporter Polly Pry (Sarah Porter), and tells his own version of the story, which is a lot more complicated than the prosecutor’s.  It all begins with Packer’s beloved horse, Liane (Betsy Bowman), and an opportunity to lead some miners on their journey to Colorado.  From there, the story follows Packer and his traveling companions–the devout Mormon Shannon Wilson Bell (Chris “Mr.” Jones), the curmudgeonly musical-hating Frank Miller (Ben Ritchie), the young and sex-obsessed George Noon (Sean Green), the pessimistic James Humphrey (Eustace Allen), and the upbeat Israel Swan (Patrick Kelly).  The journey is eventful, to say the least, as they encounter a host of unusual characters and we find out exactly what happened, according to the dejected Packer.

This is one of those shows that just throws out a bunch of jokes in rapid-fire fashion, hoping that at least some of them will land, and a great deal of them do.  It’s irreverent, with some stereotypical humor and caricatures. There’s also the requisite gory humor, although not nearly as much as I had been expecting, and lots and lots of innuendo. While there are some jokes that land better than others, for the most part the show is outrageously funny. The whole business is conducted with an unpolished air that seems to be the norm at Magic Smoking Monkey, although that’s part of their charm.  This cast is certainly enthusiastic, as well, with Keith Parker leading the way as a sympathetically clueless Packer with a strong tenor voice. Porter is well-cast as the plucky Polly, and Bowman gives a memorable performance as the perky, moody horse Liane, “transforming” into a horse simply by pulling a wheeled horse body behind her around the stage. There are also strong performances from Jones as the increasingly unstable Bell, and Kelly as the impossibly optimistic Swan, who gets a fun song and tap-dance number about snowmen.  There’s also a hilarious turn from Jeff Kargus as the cocky Frenchy Cabazon, the leader of a group of pro wrestler-styled trappers, who vies for the attentions of Liane.  There are no real weak links in this large cast, and the real key is the energy and enthusiasm that’s displayed in abundance.

The show is staged at the ornate Ivory Theatre, and its old-time atmosphere provides an ideal setting for this show.  The set, by Brian Peters, and the costumes by Beth Ashby are colorful and appropriate. The set, with its various platforms and recesses, allows for the elements of physical comedy and occasional special effects, all lending to the overall “low-budget movie” air of the play that adds to comedy.  There are also some fun audience immersion moments that are handled with well-timed hilarity.

Cannibal! The Musical is one of those shows that manages to entertain despite (or even because of) the improbability of its plot.  Although this is based on a true story, it’s a highly embellished version that includes set-changing Ninjas (Maria I. Straub, Abigail Lampe), many anachronisms and a whole lot of crude humor.  It’s all engagingly staged, leaving the audience frequently howling with laughter.  There’s one more weekend of performances, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

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