Cannibal! The Musical
And yet, somehow, I really didn't think anybody would actually stand up near the end and say "you know, I learned something today," the way they used to do in Stone and Parker's long-running cartoon show. But it turns out that director Suki Peters, along with her husband and co-adaptor (and producer) Brian Peters, just happens to know TV's "South Park" very well indeed, and are very good at slipping in funny little references here and there. Even the satirical Broadway-isms seem just as brazen as those in The Book of Mormon, and every bit as funny.
Not that they're needed. The cast of this 90-minute hootenanny finds enough red meat comedy from start to finish to feed a full house which is, apparently, what they're used to playing to, mid-way through a three-week run. And who ever thought the soulful Keith Parker (of 2010's The Wild Party) would end up in a play like this with scintillating Caitlin Mickey (a bracing Sally Bowes last year) and some of the goofiest members of the local Shakespeare mafia (Ben Ritchie, Chris "Mr." Jones and Roger Erb) too? It's a barbaric banquet of talent in a groaningly good time.
The setting is the 19th century Colorado territory as winter comes in, and a band of dimwitted prospectors sets out for fortune and adventure. Adventure they find, in the form of devious fur traders and an unlikely tribe of Indians, led by a surprisingly helpful chief (the awful/hilarious Alan David). Keith Parker (as Alfred Packer) is accompanied by his beloved horse Liane (the dippy Betsy Bowman) and some not-so-hardy explorers. They wind their way toward what they think is the mother lode but, when the going gets tough, the tender get eaten, and the deliberations just before this particularly wretched turn are shockingly funny.
Keith Parker gets a lot of good, tormented, soul-searching songs, as the story is told in flashback from his jail cell, to intrepid girl reporter Polly Pry (Ms. Mickey). And eventually, she gets a song or two herself. But nearly every tune is in quotation marks: the "I'm falling in love" song, or the "I'm falling in love with my horse" song, and the "song that will make you want to cut me up into little, bite-sized pieces" song. (This last belongs to the 100,000 watt performer/musical director Bradley J. Behrmann.) But it's really not wearing at all, and I suppose I'm still trying to figure out why I never got tired of the gimmick. Frankly, I was in a pretty sour mood before the show, yet Cannibal satisfies completely.
Each performance is a twisted little portrait, with the delightful Eustace Allen as a petulant and squeamish explorer, and kudos going to Sean Green as another, more virginal traveler. Another dozen fine performers leave bloody footprints in the frontier, including Robbie Haupt as the "Dream Laurie" of the show. The music is co-written by Trey Parker and Rich Sanders. I really wish I could tell you half the funny things that happen along the way-but that's just a kind of critical cannibalism, isn't it?
An additional performance has been added for Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 8 p.m. at the Crestwood ArtSpace (at Crestwood Court, formerly Crestwood Plaza). The storefront theater can be found near the old Dillard's at the center's eastern side, near the parking garage elevators. Through November 19, 2011. For more information, visit www.cannibal-stl.com.