Madison audiences find ‘Cannibal! The Musical’ a tasty treat

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Trey Parker, co-creator with Matt Stone of the popular South Park animated cable TV series, has discovered the secret to successful musical comedy in the 21st Century:

  • Take the bones of a socially abhorrent historical anecdote and rewrite to suit the nature of the narrative
  • Lace liberally with profanity and childish scatological references
  • Cast fearlessly with a cadre of cartoon characters set against series of absurd situations
  • Dress with some first-rate singing and top-drawer choreography, its goofiness topped only by its finesse

Then add a compelling title like, say, Trey Parker’s Cannibal! The Musical to create a bountiful box office, and success will be assured.

Madison audiences are getting some of the first bites out of this tasty Canadian production during its week of U.S. premiere performances at the Capitol Theater in Overture Center for the Arts. The performances run through March 19.

Although not quite The Book of Mormon, Parker’s more famous stage success, Cannibal! offers its own, er, charms for those with an appetite for what seems to be the author’s rapidly-developing oeuvre.

The story, in short, involves would-be frontier guide Alfred “Alferd” Packer (Benjamin Zoey) and his efforts to lead a rag-tag group of miner-wannabes to the lucrative gold fields in Breckinridge, Colorado, during a winter blizzard. The group gets lost, gets hungry and begins to eat each other.

As the only survivor, Packer is on the hook for murder and cannibalism. But enterprising reporter Polly Pry (Michelle Nash), bent on interviewing Packer for a salacious story, instead falls for the alleged cannibal’s boyish charms and sturdy tenor. She vows to free him from the hangman’s noose with the hopes of living happily ever after.

Although a new production, this is essentially Parker’s first work, having been based on a trailer he created as a University of Colorado-Boulder film school project for a non-existent film, Alferd Packer The Musical. The trailer begat the film and the film begat the stage show.

That’s not unlike the Disney Broadway model, although in no Disney production has a horse prop pooped on stage.

The current production, which received rave reviews in Toronto before heading south, draws a lot of energy and verve from its Canadian cast and crew.

The additional book, lyrics and music by Aaron Eyre, Trevor Martin, and Christopher Bond (Evil Dead, the Musical), who also directed, have elevated Parker’s cult project to a more professional level. Kudos, too, to choreographer Stacey Maroske for coaxing some compelling comical moves out the cartoon cast executed with drill-team precision.

As to the cast, their singing prowess is better than their acting chops, although that may have more to do with the script than any performer’s talent or lack thereof. Zoey and Nash deliver uniformly good performances, with a special nod to Chris Vergara for his variety of interesting and energetic characterizations. You may find yourself humming his “Let’s Build a Snowman” song on the way out.

The first act of the two-hour show is a little ponderous, but it leads to a truly riotous second act. Think of it as an appetizer for the fully satisfying meal yet to come.

For more information and tickets, visit overture.org/events/cannibal-the-musical or call the Overture Center box office at 608-258-4141.