The summertime Fringe Festival spirit lives on as the leaves turn their fall colors (or would if we lived in Utah or Colorado) in Coeurage Theatre Company’s hysterically funny, terrifically performed, absolutely shpadoinkle* live staging of Trey Parker’s tongue-in-cheek (and flesh-in-mouth) cult movie “classic” Cannibal! The Musical.
Cannibalism may have been deadly serious business to real-life arm-and-leg eater Alfred “Alferd” Packer, forced by a harsh Colorado winter to dine on his fellow prospectors as did those cannibalistic Donners a quarter-century before, but it’s food for the spoofiest show in Silverlake since Prairie-Oke!, I Know What You Did Last Donna Summer, and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter entertained audiences just down the street from Coeurage’s happening new digs at the Lyric Hyperion.
Like the movie of the same name (co-starring Parker partner Matt Stone years before South Park and The book Of Mormon brought them fame and fortune), Cannibal! The Musical The Musical follows Alferd (Kurt Quinn), his horse Liane (Kalena Ranoa), and Alferd’s fellow miners Bell (Peter Larney), Humphrey (Joshua Hoover), Miller (understudy Chad Anthony Miller), Noon (Scott Kruse), and Swan (Travis Dixon) on their trek from Utah to Colorado in search of gold in them thar hills.
Along the way they meet cavemanly fur trapper Frenchy (Joe Tomasini) and his loutish twin companions Loutzenheiser and Nutter (Mike and Ryan Brady), a tribe of Japanese-speaking, samurai sword-wielding Native Americans (Mikey de Lara, Kari Lee, and Jane Lui), and plenty of mishaps and misadventures including a Colorado River crossing, blizzards, frostbite, cold-blooded murder, and a life-or-death decision to dine on the deceased.
All this might well have made for a classic 1940s John Ford western had Hollywood’s Hays Code allowed it, and indeed Alferd’s life did inspire an apparently serious if scarcely released film treatment in 1980’s The Legend Of Alfred Packer.
In the hands of Trey Parker, however, about the only thing serious about Cannibal! The Musical is how seriously in stitches it will have you for just under two hours (including intermission).
Parker’s lyrics provide a hint of Cannibal! The Musical’s outrageously twisted sense of humor. “When I Was On Top Of You” has Alferd recalling the days when he sat astride his beloved Liane: “I’d pull her hair, and she’d know how to stop. And when she’d look behind her, I’d always be there.” (Remember that Liane is a filly, as in four-legged filly.) In “Trapper Song,” a very un-French Frenchy belts out, “I wake up muddy, and I go to bed bloody. Cause I’m a trappin’ man.” As for “Hang The Bastard,” what better way to punish a cannibal than with a noose around his neck, since in so doing, “His veins will pop out all over his head. We’ll tickle his armpits to make sure he’s dead.” You get the picture.
I have it on good authority that Cannibal! The Musical The Movie is far from Trey Parker’s finest hour as a filmmaker. Shot in 1993 while the future South Parker was studying film at the University Of Colorado, the film’s shoestring budget is I’m told every bit as evident as its cast’s inexperience in front of a camera lens.
Fortunately for L.A. theatergoers, a lot more can be done with limited bucks on a blackbox stage than on celluloid, particularly when you’ve got a director as inventive as Tito Fleetwood Ladd, a musical director as out-and-out brilliant as Gregory Nabours, and performers as comedically gifted as the latest Coeurage cast.
There is, simply put, not a weak link in an ensemble completed by Ashley Kane as Polly, the reporter to whom Alferd relates his tale in flashbacks, Nabours as prosecuting attorney Milles, Christine Sinacore (Gertrude to Lee’s Ellen), and ensemble members Sashah Askari, Charles Britton, Brian Cannady, Jessica Hopper, and Jennifer Zahlit.
Not only does the cast of nearly two-dozen deliver the comedic goods, they prove vocally adept as well, particularly with Nabours’ all-new vocal arrangements making Parker’s songs sound a gazillion times better than they do on the movie soundtrack.
Add to that Carly Wielstein’s inspired choreography (watch out for hilarious bits of Jerome Robbins, Agnes De Mille, Michael Bennett, and Macarena) and a fabulous onstage band (Cannady on drums, de Lara on guitar, Lui on accordion and additional instruments, Nabours on piano and flute, and Zahlit on violin) doubling as actors and you’ve got one of the most all-around entertaining shows in town.
JR Bruce’s deliberately Fringey scenic design features a scrolling backdrop to set the geographical scene and the flimsiest jail bars ever, the latter making for some rib-tickling physical comedy. Kara McLeod’s period costumes (with special snaps to a pony-puppet-manipulating Ranoa’s taffeta ballerina frock), Ryan Lewis’s imaginative props (including some cleverly-used water-sprayers and edible limbs), and Ladd’s topnotch lighting design are every bit as right for Cannibal! The Musical as was the stunning, Scenie-winning production design for this past summer’s Andronicus, with TJ Marchbank once again scoring high marks for his fight choreography.
Julianne Donelle is assistant director. Pat Loeb is production stage manager. Megan Laughlin and Risa Kurosaki are stage managers. Alexis Piligian is assistant scenic designer. Eric Czuleger is script adapter.
Delectable as the finest meal any gold prospector or fur trapper could wish for, Cannibal! The Musical is sure to delight anyone with a hunger for hilarity and leave them craving even more.
Needless to say, it’s a
*shpadoinkle (shpah-DOINK-ul) noun, slang. An exclamation meaning “great” or denoting surprise. “The sky is blue and all the leaves are green. The sun’s as warm as a baked potato. I think I know precisely what I mean when I say it’s a shpadoinkle day.”
Lyric Hyperion Theatre And Cafe, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silverlake.
November 15, 2014
Photos: Nardeep Khurmi