BWW Review: The Bug's CANNIBAL! Will Eat Your Heart
If you're looking for a musical about cannibalism, it's no surprise you'll find it at The Bug Theatre.
Known for their campy theatrics, The Bug is currently presenting Cannibal! The Musical. It's based on South Park creator Trey Parker's 1993 student film, which he premiered in Boulder while he attended college there. Cannibal! follows the true story of Alferd Packer, the sole survivor of a trek from Utah to Colorado in the late 1800s, where the remainder of his party was discovered dead and partially eaten.
Parker's cult following from South Park fame has kept the film alive, and while it's no match to his more recent musical work in The Book of Mormon, Cannibal! is a nonsensical and amusing romp through a tale you don't often see sung-through.
The story is told by Packer (Mike Moran) in his jail cell to Denver journalist Polly Pry (Anna Sturtz) after he's been charged with the murder of his companions. Throughout his journey, Packer and his crew encounter belligerent trappers, a raging river (forged brilliantly via sock puppets), a tribe of Indians and an aggressive cyclops southerner before frostbite eventually takes its toll...despite a joyful song about building a snowman named Bob, or Beowulf. And all Packer wants his runaway horse, Liane, back.
Parker's score is a bit juvenile, sure, but it's catchy as it propels the doomed expedition with lightheartedness, never taking itself too seriously. (Because, really, if you're looking for a thoughtful musical about cannibalism...good luck.) Not even Polly's ballad (gorgeously sung by Sturtz) is safe from a gag about a distracting stage manager who needs to sweep the stage immediately. But it all works in the delightfully campy world they've created.
Moran plays Packer like second nature. He's got a goofy disposition and just the right amount of sincerity to nail the wit of each delivery. You're immediately rooting for him, and his performance takes the show to the level it needs to be. He's accompanied by a cast who creates a zany, energetic vibe. There's rarely a dull moment.
Directed by Deb Flomberg-Rollins, the production is handled with a unique transition to the stage, scenically designed with influences from 8-bit video games like Super Mario and Zelda. The set changes are smart, with rotating panels and layers of curtains. The show pays a nice homage to the film while incorporating its own crafty brand of theatrics in all the right places.
It's tough to imagine most theaters in Denver doing shows like Cannibal! as much justice as The Bug.
Cannibal! The Musical plays through this weekend, and all remaining performances are sold out. For information about a waiting list, contact the box office at (303) 477-5977.