This stage adaptation of Trey Parker's student film and cult hit dines on the talent of the locally based comic ensemble.
Before they created The Book of Mormon, South Park, and even before Jesus vs. Santa, Trey Parker and Matt Stone spent the better part of their final year of film school making Alferd Packer: The Musical, a giddy comedic recounting of the story of the only man in U.S. history to be convicted of cannibalism. Later, when the film was released by cult shlock company Troma Films, it was renamed Cannibal! The Musical, and remains one of Troma’s most popular releases.
Of course, with the mammoth Broadway success of The Book of Mormon, anything with Parker and Stone’s name on it is a hot property right now. Cannibal has been adapted for the stage several times, as an Edinburgh Fringe show, and even for an extended off-Broadway run, but the current production at the Panasonic Theatre is its first professional adaptation, by the producers and writers of Evil Dead: The Musical and Night of the Living Dead Live!, and they’ve wisely kept the show rooted in its comic origins instead of turning it into a glitzy showcase for triple-threat belters and hoofers.
The source material is often crude and charitably described as sophomoric, and the producers haven’t shied away from this either: there are literal poop jokes (with props) on stage, and fans of Evil Dead‘s “splatter zone” will covet front-row seats. But Parker’s sincere love for musical theatre is intact, too (for a student film, there are some impressive dance sequences), and the show’s cast is stacked with Second City alumni and comedians who can invest in even the basest gags.
The ensemble really does make the show sing, though that’s not to say the leads—Liam Tobin as guileless tragic hero Packer, whose love for his faithful horse knows no bounds; and Elicia MacKenzie (winner of CBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?) as a canny reporter covering Packer’s trial—are lacking in any respect. But the bulk of the show follows the doomed prospecting party Packer leads on a trek through Colorado territory, as they encounter uncouth trappers and other strange characters, played by the quick-changing ensemble, who always winkingly have one or two members trailing behind the main group. Characters like Mark Andrada’s happy-go-lucky Swan, Marty Adams’s doltish Humphrey, and Nug Nahrgang’s loutish Frenchy, all fan favourites in the film, are appealingly brought to life here. In most musicals, there are one or two character performers in a cast of triple-threat showboats. Here, that ratio is reversed, with Tobin, MacKenzie, and Tim Porter (who features in a memorable dream sequence) outnumbered by the comic personalities.
It’s worth pointing out that many of the ensemble can be regularly seen in comedy shows across Toronto, when they’re not gamely dancing and chorus-lining on the Panasonic stage, and for much more budget prices. But that ticket price shows on stage, with a clever two-dimensional set for the comics to romp on (the improvisers in particular being accustomed to creating comedy gold on a bare stage). If you’re not a fan of Parker and Stone’s oeuvre—or of the company’s past musicals—you probably will turn your nose up at Cannibal. But if you are, you’re going to leave the theatre happy, perhaps a bit damp, and humming some of the show’s silly but catchy tunes.