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Trey Parker on the set of "Team America: World Police." Before the Tony-winning success of The Book of Mormon, and even before South Park aired its first episode, Parker wrote, directed and starred in a low-budget musical film called Cannibal! while a student at the University of Colorado. (It was produced by and co-starred his future creative partner, Matt Stone.)

Melinda Sue Gordon

2.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Trey Parker's Cannibal! The Musical
Written by
Trey Parker
Actors
Liam Tobin, Elicia MacKenzie
Music
Christopher Bond, Aaron Eyre and Trevor Martin
Lyrics
Christopher Bond, Aaron Eyre, Trevor Martin
Book
Christopher Bond, Aaron Eyre, Trevor Martin
Venue
Panasonic Theatre
City
Toronto

Make no bones about it: Cannibal! The Musical is no The Book of Mormon.

But a new stage adaptation of Trey Parker's cult-musical 1993 movie will find fans among those who enjoy the more sophomoric side of the oeuvre of Parker and his South Park co-creator Matt Stone. If you like gross-out gags about eating a dead man's buttocks, you won't be disappointed.

And even if you don't find that an appetizing prospect, with top local comic talent such as Mike "Nug" Nahrgang and Mark Andrada in the cast skillfully selling even the lamest material, you may find yourself giggling at the juvenile jokes despite yourself.

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Before the Tony-winning success of The Book of Mormon, and even before South Park aired its first episode, Parker wrote, directed and starred in a low-budget musical film called Cannibal! while a student at the University of Colorado. (It was produced by and co-starred his future creative partner, Stone.)

The 1993 film was based on the true story of Alfred (Alferd) Packer, a prospector who resorted to cannibalism while lost with five other men in the Colorado mountains in the winter of 1874. In Parker's reconception, a naive Alferd Packer leads a group of prospectors astray as he searches for his lost love – a beloved horse named Lianne, to whom he sings love ballads full of awful double entendres.

Since South Park became a phenomenon, Cannibal! has been regularly adapted into Fringe stage productions across North America. Christopher Bond, the co-creator of Evil Dead: The Musical, has been working on an expanded two-act version with writer Trevor Martin and composer Aaron Eyre since 2008. For this version, now set to tour, they've received permission to add a number of songs and scenes from Jason Hughes, who manages the theatrical rights.

In its original incarnation, Cannibal! took its titular exclamation point and musical cues from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, juxtaposing carnage with cornpone. Most of that is still here: Shpadoinkle is a straight-up parody of Oh, What a Beautiful Morning – in which an innocent, precannibal Alferd Packer (a sweet and funny Liam Tobin) sings about the blue sky and green leaves and compares everything to a baked potato. Later, there's a dream ballet between Alferd, his horse (an underused Lana Carillo) and an evil French trapper called Frenchy (the reliably funny Nahrgang). Cannibal! The Musical's adapters stray from that simple tone in seeking to flesh out the film, however – and have had some good ideas and some bad ideas. Instead of Shpadoinkle, the opening song is now Gentlemen of the West, in which a prosecutor (Marty Adams) outlines the case against Alferd; its lyrics are cluttered, its attempt at satire heavy-handed, and director Bond's staging of it is clunky. Same goes for a later song called Meat My Destiny that gives Elicia MacKenzie (winner of CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?) something to sing, but it's too on-the-nose to be amusing. Another addition, That's Very Interesting, however, takes a problematic part of the film and pushes it.

When Alferd and a ragtag group of prospectors encounter an "Indian" tribe in the movie, the joke is that they are all played by Japanese actors speaking Japanese (foreign-exchange students at the University of Colorado). In this new version, the cultural confusion is taken further – with horny but virginal prospector Noon (a versatile Tim Porter) getting a love duet with "Indian" princess Yuki (Carillo) that spoofs East-meets-West tunes from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals such as South Pacific and The King and I. Once the whole number morphs into a Bollywood dance, it all becomes too absurd to be offensive.

There are hints of The Book of Mormon in both the original source and the adaptation. Humphrey, a social misfit prone to exaggeration and fabulation, seems a prototype of the insecure Elder Cunningham – especially in Marty Adams's enjoyably over-the-top performance.

Meanwhile, in You'll Be Dead, a new act-one finale penned by Bond and company, there are a series of references to the worms that will eat Alferd after he dies, an homage to a repeated refrain in Mormon. (I hope it's an homage, anyway.)

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But for all the individual laugh-out-loud moments – most of which come from Nahrgang's dry comedy as a butcher named Miller or Andrada, in a variety of roles, going off-script – it's hard to ignore that Cannibal! doesn't really have the sophisticated satire to match the sophomoric humour that makes later Parker/Stone projects such as Mormon and Team America: World Police so brilliant. Unlike with The Book of Mormon, you don't care about any of the characters or any of the relationships – and the main joke is one of unlikely juxtaposition. But that brand of musical parody has been done to death at this point.

For tickets and more information visit mirvish.com.

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