A man wanders onstage, a mad look above his riotous beard. Another man comes on, petrified with fear, not seeing the disturbing maniac. With lightning speed, the bearded man pounces and tears a massive gash in his victim’s neck. Blood shoots everywhere while the cannibal gargles his hideous laugh, gore oozing down his gullet.
It is felt – not in the sense of emotional depths or a tremor’s tactility, but in the sense of the soft fabric you buy at 7 bucks a yard at Michael’s. Yes, these aren’t men at all. They are flappy, mouth and rod, Muppet-style puppets.
But leave the kids at home for this Fringe show, because it’s lifted from the filthy mind of Trey Parker, one of the creators of South Park and the Tony Award-winning musical Book of Mormon. Released as a cult film when Parker was in college, Cannibal! the Musical! as a script represents the less-refined juvenilia of the man who brought the c-word to the Broadway musical stage. So, if you expect Cannibal! The Musical! to highlight an over-the-top, shock-oriented humor, you’ll get it in spades.
Trey Parker’s Cannibal! The Musical
closes July 22, 2017
Details and tickets
HalfMad Theatre’s production of the story of a hapless miner, Alferd Packer, accused of eating his trailmates in Gold Rush Colorado brings a new twist on Parker’s throwback musical: the puppets. The frame story of Packer’s trial for cannibalistic murder is generally made of live actors while Packer’s reminiscences of his hopelessly incompetent and recklessly foul journey through Western wilderness is recounted with puppets. As far as I have been able to find out, this idea is unique to the script’s 20 year, mostly Fringe festival based, existence.
Director Elizabeth Dapo’s concept has oodles of ambition. The amount of stagecraft impresses, especially for a Fringe show, with an enormous multi-unit puppet stage, skeins of fabric everywhere, and more than a dozen puppets. The amount of man-hours that went into this set must be staggering, and, if strong technical elements are what you look for in a Fringe show, Cannibal! The Musical! won’t disappoint.
But the creation of those implements and their use are different matters entirely. Acting and vocal craft suffer from the difficulty of using so many puppets as principle dramatic instruments. Lines get flubbed, songs get dropped, and focus points wander as the technical challenges of the puppet as instrument collide with those of the musical theater. HalfMad Theatre earns their name in this respect: logistical juggling combined with adolescent humor certainly give a sheen of mania to the production.
The good news is that the script is solid enough and the actors earnest enough that there is a good time to be plucked from the frothing jaws of HalfMadness, which has the charm of youthful energy. Cannibal! The Musical! spoofs a range of the musical theater canon, from the opening “Shpadoinkle!” riffing off of Oklahoma! to Disney in the beastility-suggestive “Ode to Liane,” showing the seeds of satirical mastery that later bloomed into Trey Parker’s career. Lead actor Ben Ribler shows off a fine voice as Alferd Packer, as does Alison Daniels as love interest and plot advancer Polly Pry. She uses her vocal skills to make Parker’s lyrics funnier than they could be, which is no mean feat. Plus I’m a sucker for a good slapstick or dirty joke, and this production has plenty of both.
Make sure that you are, too, if you’re planning on catching Cannibal! The Musical! The rather full audience I was in had plenty of laughs, but there was some bemusement from those expecting humor less direct and bodily. This play smacks of early years South Park, 1990’s cult film and a comedy of excess. So, if that’s your bag, take it to Atlas Theater and see Cannibal! The Musical!