Shirtless, Alferd Packer (Ryan Brack) sings “When I Was on Top of You,” a love ballad to his horse, Liane. Nadine Klein, playing the animal in question, performs an interpretive dance. The musical number is but one of several highlights in the energetic, albeit uneven, Cannibal! The Musical, Live on Stage. This adaptation of the 1995 independent film by Trey Parker is presented by the newly formed Saturday Players. Fans of South Park–the pop culture sensation created by Parker with Matt Stone, who also starred in the film of Cannibal–won’t be disappointed, but anyone expecting a polished musical comedy might not have those expectations fulfilled.
The show is the fictionalized story of Packer, the “Colorado Cannibal” who holds the distinction of being the only American ever to be convicted of such a crime. In Parker’s account, Packer is a fundamentally nice guy who loves his horse, perhaps a bit too much. He agrees to lead an expedition into the Colorado Rockies to search for gold. Is it his fault that the miners get lost, his horse disappears, and the group eventually must resort to unthinkable activities just to survive?
Parker merges humor with the macabre in a surprisingly upbeat score. One of the catchiest songs of the evening is titled “Hang the Bastard,” and the lyrics to “This Side of Me” has cynical female reporter Polly Pry (Kasey Daley) declaring: “Perhaps I’m not the cold bitch I pretended to be. I’d almost forgotten this side of me.”
As might be expected, the show features plenty of foul language and sophomoric humor. One of the miners offers our hero some candy with the line, “Fudge, Packer?” Scatological references and double entendres also abound. There’s even a bit of onstage nudity.
The Saturday Players inject the musical with boundless energy. Whether performing chorus kicks or dropping their drawers, the performers give it their all. Joan Eileen Murray directs a cast of 14 on the tiny stage of the Kraine Theater; inevitably, much of the action appears squished and messy. The singing and acting talents of the cast also vary widely: Brack sings sweetly enough, but accomplished musical theater voices are in short supply here.
In addition, most of the actors are unable to render their admittedly underwritten characters in more than one dimension. A notable exception is Yoshi Amao, who plays Chief. In a brilliant re-working of ethnic stereotyping, the leader of the show’s Indian tribe speaks Japanese and teaches Packer a form of martial arts. Amao possesses a commanding physical and vocal presence that explodes in short bursts of heavily accented speech. He’s also very funny.
Rob McDonald, as Frenchy, delivers another stand-out performance. Both menacing and ridiculous, the actor launches into his big number, “The Trapper Song,” with a confidence and commitment lacking in some more polished, mainstream musicals.
The production itself is a postmodern pastiche of styles and influences. In addition to the original songs by Parker, the show samples such diverse works as Swan Lake, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” West Side Story, and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The campy choreography by Wendy R. Seyb ranges in style from ballet parodies to traditional show-biz chorus lines. A tap solo, choreographed by Jen MacQueen and performed by Joshua Gilliam as Swan, completes the eclectic mix.
The production doesn’t quite come together, despite all the efforts of those involved. Still, this is an enjoyable show that leaves you humming its tunes long after you’ve left the theater. In that sense, maybe those musical comedy expectations have been met after all.