Monday, September 22, 2008

Cannibal! feeds on itself at Dad's Garage

Posted By on Mon, Sep 22, 2008 at 7:39 PM


It’s not surprising that Dad’s Garage Theatre would want to revisit Cannibal! The Musical. A decade ago, the company’s original adaptation of the no-budget musical by “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker helped put the fledgling Inman Park playhouse on the map. Cannibal! debuted opposite the Alliance Theatre’s Broadway-bound Elton John musical Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida (subsequently shortened to just Aida), and The New York Times Magazine ran a wry little info box about the two shows. One of Cannibal’s characters even played with a pyramid-shaped toy, in a shout-out to Aida’s famously glitchy mechanical pyramid.

The program for Dad’s 10th anniversary remount of Cannibal! The Musical says that the original adaptation by Sean Daniels and Matthew Stanton has been further adapted by Mike Katinsky and George Faughnan, the show’s director. I saw the new Cannibal! Saturday night and it struck me as drastically different. There’s an all-new cast, a completely different set and different approach to the big laughs. In 1998, the Confederate war-veteran/Cyclops didn’t just squirt fluid from his empty eye socket, he doused a “splash zone” of people in the audience. The new Cannibal! keeps its fluids onstage, mostly.

I can’t claim to remember everything about the original show, although it definitely worked more inside jokes about “South Park” into its flip treatment of Alferd Packer and a Donner Party-esque disaster in 19th century Colorado. The new version, however, seemed to lack a certain essential spark. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the magic’s gone – “magic” is not the word to describe a show that features lines like “Fudge, Packer?” But the production I saw, the comedic timing proved surprisingly tentative, a crucial flaw given a show with such an intentionally stoopid script.

The new Cannibal! handily trumps its predecessor with its gore effects, however. Chris Brown, who brought grisly invention to Dad’s previous production, the original musical Song of the Living Dead, offers more witty effects here. When the inaptly named Lucky Larry gets struck by lightning, a blackened, smoldering skull rolls past his body. When the ravenous travelers begin carving Dean’s character’s body, the scene looks queasily realistic. The ghastly props and nightmarish slapstick prove much more entertaining than the jokes and musical numbers.

Steven Westdahl gave the most charismatic performance as a bullying trapper who comes across like a psychopathic Daniel Boone, and Gabriel Dean delivers a crazed, spunky musical number “Let’s Build a Snowman” to a group dying of frostbite and starvation. Doug Graham captures Packer’s wide-eyed naiveté, but he simply lacks the vocal oomph for the musical numbers. In the previous production, Trent Blanton served as a credible comedic lead, able to belt out the tune “Shpadoinkle” like he’s singing lead in Oklahoma! Here’s Trey Parker, singing that song in the beginning of the original Cannibal! film:

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Cannibal! The Musical plays through Oct. 18.

(Photo courtesy Dad's Garage)

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