In this hilarious production masterfully directed by Suki Peters, Packer is drafted to lead a group of miners to Breckenridge, Colorado after the demise of their previous guide, Lucky Larry (Alan David, perhaps not so lucky, at that). Historically, there were 21 at the start, but we see only the five who choose to move on against the advice of an Indian chief whose tribes shelter the band when the snows come. This did not turn out well. Obviously many liberties are taken with the material to make it funny, but the names of the ill-fated five are accurate in this parody: Shannon Wilson Bell (Chris “Mr.” Jones), James Humphrey (Eustace Allen), Israel Swan (Bradley J. Behrmann, also credited as musical director), Frank Miller (Ben Ritchie) and George Noon (Sean Green).
Writer Trey Parker sends up Oklahoma-style musicals in “Cannibal” along with a whole lot of other stuff, including Mormons, prefiguring his collaboration with partner Matt Stone in the current Book of Mormon. In this show, the group leaves from Utah and gets very, very lost, partly due to Packer’s search for his beloved horse, Liane (Betsy Saule) whom he believes was stolen by some trappers led by Dennis Folwarczny as Frenchy Cabazon. Liane is an Arabian, and Cabazon doesn’t think a “digger” (miner) is worthy of such a horse. However, the situation is not as it seems, and Parker has great fun mocking an ex-girlfriend with the Liane plot, especially with the song “When I Was On Top of You.”
The miners have various plans for the gold they expect to find, but they begin to lose their optimism when it becomes clear that their three-week journey isn’t getting them anywhere, and as time goes on, they are in danger of all kinds of nasty deaths. Various sorts of violence ensue, and yes, people are eaten. During the trial, Packer finds an advocate in Polly Pry (Caitlin Mickey) whose name, I figured, was a play on “Nelly Bly” but apparently was a real reporter from Denver. She sweeps in to save the day because of her mad crush on Packer.
It’s nearly impossible to talk in any meaningful way about the “plot” of this show, but some highlights include the Indian Tribe, here the Nonjinhin, actually Japanese, headed by Chief Ouray (David) with tepees sporting the rising sun and a flirtatious squaw (Nicole Angeli). She comes on to the virginal Noon, whose greatest fear is that he’ll die unfucked. Unfortunately, he’s forced to move on before that problem can be remedied. The whole audience gets wet when the party crosses the Green River (and Packer tells them there are no more “big rivers” on the way—except the Colorado, of course), and they circle around, meeting the “Cyclops” (Maxwell Knocke), a Confederate soldier whose eye was shot out by a Yankee. They must flee when their rendition of “Dixie” proves less than convincing.
Everyone in the show does fine work, and they seem to be having a really good time themselves. They truly are too numerous to mention, but I have to single out Angeli, who convincingly plays Eustace Allen’s less smart brother, Ralph; a fantasy “snow bunny” (I didn’t know she could tap dance!); the horny Squaw; a Ruth Buzzi-like old lady who beats Packer with her purse at his trial; a saloon chanteuse, etc. She and Behrmann make Maria I. Straub’s choreography shine. Also Saule who continues whinnying, nickering and tossing her head (and farting) even when she’s not part of the action deserves mention, as do David, Jones, Allen and, first among equals, Parker. Even amidst all the foolishness, he plays it straight, sings well, and becomes oddly sympathetic. Folwarczny’s big baritone adds an unexpected bit of fun too.
Juan Schwartz (well, maybe not because that’s the pseudonym Trey Parker used in the movie version) is responsible for the clever set. Larry Kornfeld and Jeff Roberts pulled together a compilation of familiar tunes from westerns for the sound background and Bob Singleton handled the videos that introduce the show and enhance it throughout. All in all, it’s a schpadoinkle-ly (you need to be there) good time. If I were allowed to tell you to go, which I’m not due to journalistic standards, I would. And there are Ninjas.
Cannibal: The Musical runs through Nov. 19th with a second show at 10:30 on Saturday evenings. Visit www.cannibal-stl.com for information. Andrea Braun also reviews for KDHX 88.1 FM.
BY: ANDREA BRAUN – THEATRE CORRESPONDENT