Fans of the animated TV series South Park laugh at its irreverence, while non-fans think it crosses the line from edgy to repulsive. So the credit "...by the creator of South Park" could keep away as many theatregoers as it attracts. But people turned off by South Park's crudeness (or, as the Cannibal! program presumptuously calls them, "persons with no sense of humor") should not be deterred from seeing Cannibal! The Musical, a stage adaptation of a film written by South Park co-creator Trey Parker before television made him famous.
The staples of South Park humor are-blessedly, if you don't like the cartoon-in short supply in Cannibal!: only one fart, two references to a blow job, and zero lesbian-baiting jokes in the entire show. Oh, it does have hints of bestiality, a tribe of Utes referred to as "Injins," a depiction of Jesus as rather pedestrian, and a sight gag illustrating the title act. But since Cannibal! lacks the rampant vulgarity of South Park, and because its performers, costumes and props were vastly superior to what anyone might expect from late-night Off-Off-Broadway theater, this show could be enjoyed by those who love musicals as well as those who love to hate them.
Like the 1999 feature film of South Park, Cannibal! sends up old-fashioned musicals by using the format to tell an off-color tale: that of a gold-mining expedition gone awry, and what its sole survivor may have had to stomach when his hapless troop got lost. The catchy score of Cannibal! delightfully satirizes a range of show-tune genres: there's a love ballad, a tap dance, a song for a female belter, an ensemble number where each singer gets his own verse, a frequent reprise, even a dream ballet-all performed with the gusto and aptitude befitting a serious production (which Cannibal! proudly isn't). Ryan Brack, Joshua Gilliam, Matt Parson, Mark C. Ramsey, Jeremy Manta and Paul Lange form an untraditional yet hilariously winning chorus line as the six miners, whose antics are both the narrative and comic crux of the show. Their characters are written as one-dimensional-"optimist," "horny kid," "preacher" and so forth-but each embodies his role wholeheartedly without going over the top, and some genuine talent shines through the silly material. Juanita Schwartz, who narrates and plays a variety of roles, also stands out for her endearing nature, sharp comic timing and obvious affection for her work-qualities exhibited by the rest of the cast (Nadine Klein, Kasey Daley, John David West, Rob McDonald, Scott W. Sanborn, Yoshi Amao, Elizabeth Quinn) as well.
Costume designer Julia N. van Vliet garbed this assortment
of 19th-century archetypes-frontiersmen, fur trappers, Native
Americans, long-skirted ladies-in suitable attire, and the heavy
arsenal of props includes some clever accouterments. With such
an artful cast and production team, Cannibal! proves that
camp and quality do not have to be mutually exclusive.
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Copyright 2001 Adrienne Onofri