Cannibal musical devours its audience up with gory humor

The Garage Theatre’s production of “Cannibal!” is a gory comedy with plenty of laughs and entertaining moments in which the audience participates.

The musical is based on the story of Alfred G. Packer, one of the surviving members of the 21 people who traveled from Utah to Breckenridge, Colo. in search of gold. However, South Park writer Trey Parker takes plenty of liberties to turn this dark story into a comedy.

Honestly, it’s a little grim to turn this 1800s story into a comedy musical, but Parker does it surprisingly well.

For starters, Packer, played by Bill Woods, is obsessed with his horse, Liane. He’s so infatuated that he sings a dirty song about how he loves to get on top of her, called “When I Was On Top of You.”

He and his Mormon buddies meet up with a rowdy trio of fur trappers, who have no idea what key they are singing in. At the end of the song, they stop the song and get into an amusing argument over whether Nutter was singing in the relative minor of F sharp minor.

Then the Mormons run into a group of Indians, including one who speaks in Chinese. Oddly enough, the chief (played by Jasper Oliver) is an black woman who preaches about Martin Luther King Jr.

This is a demented retelling of American history, but the actors perform the jokes surprisingly well. For example, one of the miners, Israel Swan (played by M.S. Cliff), sings an ecstatic song about building a snowman even though they’re starving and freezing in the Rocky Mountains.

The best parts of the musical take place when the audience gets to participate in parts of the play, shooting squirt guns or throwing stuffed animals at the actors when someone raises a sign to signal the appropriate time. There’s nothing more fun than getting wet from a squirt gun war in the middle of the audience.

The songs in “Cannibal!” aren’t particularly awe-inspiring, but they are still very entertaining. Sarah Collins gives the most impressive singing performance in the musical, as the journalist Polly Pry. She sings an over-dramatic, humorous R&B number in the beginning of act two, complete with a disco ball and flashy lights.

The best number, however, is “Hang the Bastard.” The judge, the sheriff and the trappers joyfully dance and sing, “And when his eyes bug out we’ll know/It’s the end of him/And the end of the show!” Meanwhile, Packer gloomily awaits his hanging at the gallows.

Although “Cannibal!” is certainly grim and gory, with a slightly gruesome scene in which the miners eat a (fake) human leg. It may surprise people with just how enjoyable it really is.

The Garage Theatre is located at 251 E. 7th Street in Long Beach. For ticket information, call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.thegaragetheatre.org


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