BWW Review: CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL at Little Theatre Of Mechanicsburg
Cannibal! The Musical begin its life as a fake trailer made for a film class by Trey Parker (of South Park fame). Eventually Parker and some of his classmates got together some funds to actually create the movie, originally named Alferd Packer: The Musical. The movie was renamed Cannibal! The Musical when they realized that most people outside of Colorado had never heard of Alferd Packer. It first appeared on stage in 1998 at Sierra College. With its opportunities for flexible casting and minimal set, Cannibal! The Musical is perfect for small theatres, and it can be enjoyed through June 23rd at Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg.
Cannibal! The Musical, based on the true story of Alferd Packer, the first person to be tried for cannibalism in America, doesn't sound like it should be a laugh riot. However, it turns out to be exactly what I would expect from writer Trey Parker. It is over-the-top, funny, and filled with double entendre. One of the most charming aspects of the production at Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg for me is that the actors don't take any of it too seriously. I appreciate the sense that they all know that the show is quite ridiculous. While some directors may approach it differently, this was a good choice on the part of director Emma Laube.
The set consists of painted walls and some movable pieces, including the bars of Alferd Packer's prison cell. With the old-timey map of Colorado on the wall and the piano music in the background, the audience feels like they're in a small town in the Old West. Meredith Hensel deserves a special mention for the costume design, which really helped pull the scenes together aesthetically.
For those looking for a musical of the traditional variety, Cannibal! The Musical is not that. While there are some terrific voices on the stage, most notably Debi Prestine, Sarah Allwein, Phil Narsh, Matt Stewart, and Nathan Bobb, they are not really shown at their best in this performance. Many of the songs felt like they were separate from the actual show because the actors were listening so carefully for their entrances and to keep the timing and pitches right. To integrate the music into the show more smoothly, I would have loved to have seen an upright piano with pianist providing live music on stage with the cast during this performance.
One of the most creative parts of the show is how they interpreted the Ute Indian characters. Completely avoiding the issues of cultural appropriation, as the roles played by non-Native American actors, this production portrayed these characters as modern women who talk in emojis and fight with light sabers. Sarah Allwein, who plays several characters throughout the show, is brilliant as the Ute Indian Chief.
Denise Carman, Nova Lorraine, and Debi Prestine, along with Sarah Allwein, each take on multiple roles during the performance. Lorraine and Carman particularly shine in their roles as trappers with their leader Frenchy Cabazon (portrayed by Nathan Bobb). Debi Prestine is wonderful in all of her roles, but she is made for the role of reporter Polly Pry. Her annoyance at the flirtations from Mr. Mills and her growing attraction to Alferd Packer are displayed through her fantastic use of vocal tone, facial expression, and gestures.
Nathan Bobb takes on the role of head tracker, Frenchy Cabazon. He plays the role with just the right amount of arrogance and distain for the miners. "Trapper Song" is delivered by Bobb and his trapper crew with appropriate zeal and gravitas as they describe all of the things they do to the animals they trap. The following dialogue in which the trappers scold one another or singing in the wrong key, is hilarious and delivered in all seriousness, making it even funnier.
James Humphrey and George Noon are two miners who join the expedition. Noon is excited to be going along because he's hoping to get laid, while Humphrey would rather not be going. Ashton Jones is great in the role of George Noon. Jones has perfected the swagger and bravado for the role of a young man looking for adventure and a little fun on the side. Paige Reeves comes across as a little young for the role of James Humphrey, but her energy, stage presence, and interactions with the other characters, especially with Jones's Noon, makes up for it.
Kimberly Jones and Chandra Yoder contrast well in their roles as optimistic Israel Swan and pessimistic Frank Miller. Jones has wonderful energy and heightens the scenes she's in. When she performs the song "Let's Build a Snowman", she does it with straightforward joy and a hint of crazy, which is perfect for the song and the scene. Yoder's Frank Miller is the complete opposite-surly, irritable, and angry. Yoder does a great job of keeping her tone and demeanor in line with her character even when the audience is laughing uproariously.
Phil Narsh and Matt Stewart as Alferd Packer and Shannon Wilson Bell round out the group of miners traveling to Colorado Territory. One of the best scenes early in the show is Stewart's preacher scene where he's trying to inspire the other miners in the area to move on from Utah. Stewart has great emotional range, which is necessary for the role of Shannon Wilson Bell. I can't say too much more about Bell without revealing some of the twists of the story, so you'll just have to come see the show to see how Stewart brings that role to life. Phil Narsh is a great choice for the role of Alferd Packer. He has an unsophisticated, naïve, self-effacing demeanor that is endearing-it's strange to think of this character as endearing when you remember that he's on trial for cannibalism, but that is part of the point of the show.
Overall, the show is well-cast and quite a lot of fun. While the musician in me wishes the songs had been better executed, they really aren't the focus of the show, so I can overlook that by appreciating the tongue-in-cheek performances and the way they made me (and the rest of the audience) laugh.
Get your tickets to see Cannibal! The Musical before it's too late, and treat yourself to a show unlike any other. Visit www.ltmpa.com for information on how to order your tickets.