“CANNIBAL!: THE MUSICAL LIVE!” (Stage Show Review)Books/Art/Culture,News Trevor Parker
Here’s a confession: this writer isn’t exactly enamored with the overly-referential satire found in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s long-running cartoon SOUTH PARK, nor by the crass, classless humor that titillated BOOK OF MORMON’s Broadway audiences. There is, obviously, no shortage of admirers out there eager to chow down on another helping of Parker’s brand of laughs, so take the preceding as context for the following review.
CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL is based on the true events, surrounding prospector Alfred “Alferd” Packer’s doomed traverse over Colorado’s Rocky Mountains in 1873. After returning to civilization unharmed, Packer would confess to consuming his travelling companions during the course of several snowbound weeks atop the Rockies, and was eventually convicted of their murders. Young film student Trey Parker (and prior to him, sixties’ folk singer Phil Ochs) used this factual frontier crime tale as fodder for dark musical comedy, writing and shooting CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL as a movie in 1993 alongside frequent collaborator Matt Stone. Various stage versions of Parker’s CANNIBAL have been mounted since the release of the film, and this current attempt bears the pedigree of having been adapted and expanded by writer/director Christopher Bond and his team, who come hot off the success of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE and their surprise worldwide hit, EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL.
Running until March 8th at Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre, Bond’s new production of CANNIBAL doesn’t much deviate from Parker’s movie. As such, the older scripted jokes can weigh things down: For every fresh moment of inspired lunacy like an underwater Super Mario Brothers skit enacted midway through the show, there’s a tired gag such as the one mocking dubbed kung-fu movie dialogue— maybe current in 1993, the same year Mike Myers trotted out a similar bit in WAYNE’S WORLD 2, but unpardonably stale for 2015. Likewise, some will no doubt revel in CANNIBAL’s requisite array of fart jokes, defecating stage props, broad gay and racial stereotypes and the winking allusions to bestiality and livestock love affairs that go on far, far too long.
Where this CANNIBAL upgrades tremendously is in the standout comedic cast Bond has assembled: all players essaying multiple roles and costume changes throughout the show, milking any accents they might be given the chance to play with to hilarious effect, and able to nimbly spin the various technical hiccups and flubbed cues of the preview-night presentation into moments of improv gold. Liam Tobin makes for a charismatic, sympathetic lead amid all the silliness and flatulence, and the underused Elicia MacKenzie’s clarion singing voice quakes the rafters of the Panasonic, even with her mic occasionally stuttering in its amplifications This writer remembers catching the very first workshop run of Bond’s EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL at Toronto’s tiny, odiferous Tranzac club, so can say with confidence that this production is light years ahead in terms of professionalism and general quality.
Speaking of EVIL DEAD, fans attending CANNIBAL in hopes of another splattery, Grand Guignol-esque gorefest will be left disappointed, as the cannibalism elements aren’t a factor beyond the climax and a brief, bloody jolt at the very beginning. Here, the focus rests squarely on the shoulders of Parker’s japes. If the man’s subjective sense of humor doesn’t quite happen to match your subject, you’ll be in for a long evening; for the many devotees of Parker’s foul-mouthed scatological shenanigans out there, CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL will fill their bellies just fine.