Published in The News Tribune Dec. 8 '06
I simply could not resist Theater Artists Olympia’s “Cannibal!! The Musical,” written by “South Park” creator Trey Parker and billed as “All singing! All dancing! All flesh eating!”
Apparently I was not the only one seduced by their outlandish advertising, because the opening night performance was not only sold out, it was over-sold. They had to squeeze extra chairs into the black box theater at South Puget Sound Community College’s Center for the Arts.
The play is based on the true story of Alferd Packer, the first person in the United States to be convicted of cannibalism. In 1873, Packer accepted the position as guide to a group of 20 prospectors from Utah headed into the Colorado Territory. Stopped by mountain blizzards, the party wintered over with a tribe of Ute Indians. But six of the men, led by Packer, forged ahead and got lost. Packer was the only survivor from the party of six. He was accused of murdering and eating his companions, brought to trial and convicted. Yet many people in the territory believed he was innocent, and he became something of a western folk legend.
Trey Parker turned the story into a campy feature film that gained a small but dedicated following.
The stage version is unique in that there is no script for it. Instead of a script, there are a few songs and an official adapter’s guide; theater companies are free to do whatever they want with these. TAO has chosen to present it as an outrageously campy musical with ludicrous costumes, silly fake beards, bad singing and dancing, a hilarious slide show projected above the set, a narrator right out of a 19th century carnival, a sexy but overweight woman in the role of Packer’shorse, an Indian tribe in drag, liberal usage of words you can’t say on television, sly references to “West Side Story” and “Mr. Ed,” buckets of blood and body parts strewn all over the stage (they even list a “blood wrangler” on the technical crew).
TAO has done outrageously campy shows before, such as last year’s “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” They have demonstrated a penchant for excessive blood and gore, as in their particularly graphic “Macbeth.” But this one goes above and beyond anything they’ve done before. It is also their first musical. None of the actors are outstanding singers or dancers, but they at least manage to (almost) carry a tune and do a bit of hoofing.
Songs guaranteed to stick in your mind include “Shpadoinkle Day,” “Don’t be Stupid,” “When I was on Top of You” and “Hang the Bastard.”
Elizabeth Lord narrates the tale. Lord is well known in the area as a professional story teller, and she has extensive theatrical experience in both performing and directing. She manages to maintain a serious demeanor when fools are cavorting all around her in most ridiculous ways. Robert McConkey is Alferd Packer. He plays the convicted cannibal as an earnest but bumbling innocent who is deeply in love with his horse, Liane.
Kimberley Holm is a scene stealer as Liane the horse (of course). She prances with panache and chews her food in a most delightful manner.
Russ Holm, a veteran of many Shakespearean plays with TAO and Harlequin productions, plays Israel Swan, a nasty old miner whose greatest thrill is building snowmen.
Heather R. Christopher is charming as Polly Pry, the reporter who interviews Packer in jail and is seduced by his charms.
Also outstanding are Paul Purvine as the sex-obsessed young prospector, George Noon, and Dennis Rolly is the nefarious prosecutor, Warren Mills.
This show is not for everyone. People who enjoyed the bloody fight scenes in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” should love it. Everyone beware.
SIDEBAR: Cannibal!! The Musical
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 17
WHERE: South Puget Sound Community College Center for the Arts
TICKETS: $12 online at www.buyolympia.com/events or at the door