Cannibal! The Musical to be best meal in town | SteamboatToday.com

Cannibal! The Musical to be best meal in town

Julia Ben-Asher/For Steamboat Today

— When the local adaption of "Cannibal! The Musical" premiers at the Chief Theater in Steamboat Springs on Friday night, the audience will travel back in time twice: to the show's setting of 1873, in which a haphazard crew journeys into Colorado Territory, and to the show's creation in 1993, the first time Trey Parker and Matt Stone put their heads together to write.

The production will also be The Chief Players' first musical. The all-volunteer group, founded in 2013, features local thespians of all ages and levels of experience.

The musical is based on the story of Alferd Packer, a lovable, goofy man (actually named Alfred, but being largely illiterate, spelled his name as he pronounced it), who finds himself leading a troop of miners hundreds of wintry miles on foot from Provo, Utah, to Breckenridge, where it's said gold is abundant.

Along the way, the audience gets to know the diverse individuals of the pack, some out to preach the Mormon bible and some driven by powers less holy — some who trot forward toward the possibility of women and some who might be more interested in their horse. Packer is the only one to emerge from the treacherous journey; he soon sits behind bars, the only person in U.S. history to be convicted of cannibalism, and, incredulous, rehashes his tale to a pretty journalist.

Parker first wrote the musical as a trailer for a film class as a student at University of Colorado-Boulder; it went over so well with friends and classmates that he and Stone raised the money to film a the full-length musical movie during the semester's weekends and spring break.

The film was released by Troma Entertainment in 1996 but was not widely distributed outside of Colorado. But Parker’s and Stone's animated show South Park debuted the next year, and “Cannibal! The Musical” picked up a cult following. Cannibal! as a musical debuted in Toronto in 2015, and a national tour begins this fall.

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The cast and crew say they would love to save seats for Parker and Stone, but no one is counting on seeing them in the audience. The creative duo has been known to disguise themselves for productions of their shows — once as old men, cackling in the front row — only revealing themselves after the final bows.

Parker and Stone also have co-written Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” and films “Orgazmo, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” and “Team America: World Police.”

Director of the Chief's Cannibal! production Michael Staley first came across the original film and adapted this version of the musical from the screenplay.

"It was important to me that we make it our own show and not aim to recreate the movie onstage," he said.

Jason McHugh, who was an executive producer of the film and played Miller, gave advice throughout the development of the local musical.

"It's amazing to do a performance of a production that was written by a person from Colorado about a piece of Colorado history, but in a completely filthy, irreverent, ridiculous, hilarious piece," said Ryan Fleming, who plays Alferd Packer. "If you watch the original film, you can see South Park jokes starting to form."

This production will be one of multimedia. Short videos of scrolling text fill in background, and landscape photographs provide striking backdrops. In the pit, Sarah Laping accompanies on piano, while Sarah White-Crane plays guitar and Carolyn Berns plays violin — when they're not playing their characters on stage.

The musical is stuffed with creepy, startling, fun special effects. Suspenders and false sideburns are abundant. There is always a joke around the corner, whether it's a play on words that only attuned adult ears will catch or the full-on mooning of the audience that no one can miss.

But the cast and crew are grounded in a balance of comedy and respect for the story's history.

"It's fun fare, it's silly, but it's based on real Colorado history, and you can learn some things — kind of," said Tom Hukriede, who plays miner Israel Swan.

"It's satirical, but it's also a recounting of our history," said Olivia Hobson, who plays Liane.

"It feels like it could have happened here," said Annie Nash, who plays Squaw and Loutzenheiser.

Fleming visited Packer's final resting place in Littleton, and Staley and Kirk Aigner, who plays preacher-turned-miner Shannon Wilson Bell, made a trip out to Lake City, where Packer was sentenced, where the miners are buried and where the original movie was filmed.

"If you think the show we're doing is impressive, think of what the guys who it's based on went through," Aigner said. "It's based on a pretty awful real-life event; that really brought it back home."

If the original miners could watch the musical this weekend, "I think they would appreciate that we were able to bring some humor to their misfortune," Staley said. "Hopefully, it would be a sense of a sense of catharsis for the miners, that their story was finally told."

If you go:

What: Cannibal! The Musical

When: 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 21, Saturday Oct. 22, Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29

Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.

For more information, visit chieftheater.com

Cast list:

Ryan J. Fleming – Alferd Packer

Beth Blaskovich – Polly Pry

Olivia Hobson – Liane

Christopher J. Wadopian – Frenchy

Kirk Aigner – Bell

Calder Young – Humphrey

Sean-Patrick Schaefer-Rookstool – Miller

Christian G. Nieves – Noon

Tom Hukriede – Swan