By Beki Pineda
CANNIBAL the Musical – Written by Trey Parker; Directed by Deb Flomberg-Rollins. Produced by the Bug Theatre (3654 Navajo, Denver) through October 27. Tickets available at 303-477-5977 or bugtheatre.org.
Back in the mid-90’s when serving as the company Manager for the Colorado Shakes, I heard about a movie that had been done by a couple of students that was being given a free screening on campus. A group of people from the company took our one night off and sent to see the fun. We laughed – we gasped – we guffawed – and laughed again at the cheeky clever theatricality of the movie ALFERD PACKER The Musical – which later became CANNIBAL (the producer who bought the movie rights didn’t think anyone outside of Colorado would know who Alferd Packer was). It was inevitable that it would be converted to an on-stage production because the crazy boys who wrote it were theatre kids from the beginning. They did, after all, finally learn how to do it right when they wrote THE BOOK OF MORMON.
The movie was unabashedly hokey – no intention to be anything else. But the carefree abandonment of the movie has never quite been captured in any stage production I’ve seen of this script. It’s probably because the movie was filmed in the Flat Irons above the campus in the actual snow for “Let’s Build a Snowman” and Liane was an actual horse in the movie. Hard to duplicate that on stage. Plus it didn’t seem like Parker and company ever thought anything would come from this adventure and they were just having silly fun. I’ve also heard that considerable drugs were consumed during the filming.
But this hardy band of players at the Bug does the best they can with the script they have. It appears that Hokey (with a capital H) was what they were going for. And that they achieved. The short film that starts the show gets everything off to a bloody start as Parker (Mike Moran) chases his comrade mountain men across the landscape to dismember and chew on their bones when caught. if you can get through that laughing, the rest of the show is a piece of cake.
The show starts with Packer’s trial for murder and goes into flashback to tell the “true” story of the six miners who started out that fateful winter. He recounts the tale to Polly Pry (Anna Sturtz with a truly beautiful voice), a Denver Post journalist who traveled to Saguache to cover the trial. What unfolds is quite different from the version given the jury but is it too late to save Alferd? In the telling, there is much frolicking in the snow, fighting with the hunters, and maligning of Packer’s horse Liane (Larissa Flemming). There’s also much overacting, comical lyrics to simple melodies, and anticipation for when dinner starts.
Rather than infusing a slick professionalism into the production (not the Bug’s modus operandi) they continue the spirit of play into the set with pieces that march on and off and turn around to become mountains, Indian encampments, the tavern and various other locations. The beards and wigs are just silly including one miner with orange hair – a refugee from a Bronco game. The huge crowd on opening night seemed to enter into the spirit of the frivolity, cementing once again that the Bug has found its niche audience.
A WOW factor of 8!!