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A CurtainUp DC Review
Cannibal! the Musical
by Rich See
Landless Theatre is offering up a surprise treat with its first show of the 2006-2007 season, the wacky Cannibal! The Musical, based upon the 1993 film of the same name by Trey Parker (the co-creator of the TV show South Park). In his world of silly parody, Mr. Parker, of course, takes liberties with the story of America's first known cannibal.
Combining a dark story line of desperate gold miners starving in the winter with cheery songs about snowmen, the play moves swiftly and has a variety of fun gags and double entendres. Landless' Artistic Director Andrew Lloyd Baughman has adapted the film for the DCAC stage and director Chris Davenport has created a strong ensemble of voices (with only a couple of weak spots) which brings the entire bare bones production alive. The night I saw it, the performance had been moved to a church basement due to unforeseen circumstances and without real lighting, sound or air conditioning systems, the entire show held up and was still great fun.
The basic premise, if you are unfamiliar with the Alfred Packer story is...
Packer was a 31 year-old man who joined a group of gold miners from Provo, Utah when they decided to head north in order to stake a claim on the newly discovered gold in Breckenridge, Colorado. Along the way, the group meets difficulties and eventually discovers a Native American village whose chief is friendly to white settlers. After staying at the village for some time, the miners choose to move forward in opposition to the chief's warnings. Due to the oncoming snowstorm, the chief is afraid they will become trapped in the mountains, which is precisely what happens as the six men proceed and in a short time become hopelessly lost and out of food. Trey Parker's story line follows this general format except in Parker's skewed world, the Native Americans are Asians, there is a cyclops terrorizing the mountainside and Alfred Packer becomes the first Karate Kid.
Eventually Packer arrives alone at an Indian Agency in Saguache, Colorado and tells the story that he got separated and lost from his traveling companions. The story holds up until remains of the other miners are found and then Packer is hunted and put on trial. Throughout all of this, Parker fits in chipper songs like "Shpadoinkle Day," "Let's Build A Snowman!" and "Ode To Liane (When I Was On Top Of You)." Liane by the way is Packer's beloved horse.
Landless' staging may be minimal, but the cast seems full of enthusiasm and several of the voices shine. In particular, Josh Peerstra does a great job as the either super naïve or bizarrely insane Alfred Packer. Alex Zavistovich makes an Oklahoma-esque Shannon Bell. And Timothy R. King is the exceedingly smiling and happy -- even when it's time to eat his shoes -- Israel Swan.
Jennifer Berg is Polly Pry, the female reporter who befriends and falls in love with Packer. (This is in Trey Parker's version -- not real life.) And as the trio of sinister trappers, Ed Xavier, John Geoffrion and Ted Kerrick are fur-covered toughs who argue about octaves and musical notes. Mr. Xavier's ballet recital is especially funny.
The rest of the cast includes: Ally Jenkins and Jen Tonon as male miners, John Geoffrion as prosecutor Mills, Chad Allen as cynical miner Frank Miller, Dan Cullen as the Sheriff of Saguache and Momo Nakamura as the Indian chief, Indian princess and Indian scout.
Mixing the Alfred Packer story with aspects of Homer's Odyssey (note the Cyclops which appears in the production), Cannibal! The Musical is a fun diversion which might not be for everyone, but will appeal to anyone who enjoys sarcastic wit. And by the way, it is said that Alfred Packer eventually became a vegetarian...