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'Cannibal! The Musical' Is Deliciously Fresh And Innovative

Ryan David McRee |
November 10, 2014 | 11:17 a.m. PST

Staff Writer

 Jason Peter Kennedy, Scott Kruse, Peter Larney, Kurt Quinn, Travis Dixon, Joshua Hoover. (Nardeep Khurmi)
Jason Peter Kennedy, Scott Kruse, Peter Larney, Kurt Quinn, Travis Dixon, Joshua Hoover. (Nardeep Khurmi)

Rarely is one able to see a musical that can thrill an audience not in spite of a low budget... but because of it. There can be such an expectation for spectacle when seeing a musical that not all productions are up to the task of innovation—of keeping an audience engaged simply with the words of the script, the music, and clever choices in staging, casting, and choreography. Coeurage Theatre Company’s production of “Cannibal! The Musical” is a true thrill for anyone who wants to see what barebones theatre can do. 

"Cannibal! The Musical" is based on the 1993 independent film of the same name, a brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the writing duo responsible for “South Park” and “The Book of Mormon.” The plot is loosely based on the true story of Alfred Packer, who lost five companions on a trek from Utah to Colorado and was charged with performing cannibalism to survive. Parker and Stone created the movie as undergraduates at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Cannibal! The Musical” is staged at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Café in Silver Lake, in an intimate black box theatre inside the café. The café is a great place to grab a pastry, cup of coffee or glass of wine before the show, and the venue is very homey and welcoming. The production is fairly small in scale, with simple set, costumes and props, but everything is done very efficiently and effectively. The simplicity of the show adds to its humor. JR Bruce’s scenic design included a comically unstable jail cell door that the actors play off, and a moving painted backdrop that suggests the group’s movement across the northwest. Carly Wielstein’s hilarious choreography creates tropes and themes throughout the show, generating a sense of familiarity and whimsy when familiar movement patterns began to emerge. Kara McLeod’s costume design immerses the audience in the world of the show.

SEE ALSO: Theater Review: 'The Book Of Mormon' On Broadway

Possibly the most gratifying element of the show is Tito Fleetwood Ladd’s economic and clever direction, bringing the story to life by taking advantage of the intimate space and the fairly low budget. Inspired directing choices find easy and hilarious solutions to otherwise difficult problems. When the company has to swim across a river, ensemble members enter with spray bottles and spray water on the cast as they struggle through the current. One actor has a tap dancing number, but dons cowboy boots instead of tap shoes and instead an ensemble member off to the side of the stage holds tap shoes to the floor and makes the tap sounds. All choices serve the script well, emphasizing the tongue-in-cheek humor audiences come to expect if they are familiar with “The Book of Mormon” or “South Park.”

 Christine Sinacore, Jennifer Zahlit, Kurt Quinn, Ashley Kane, Jessica Hooper. (Nardeep Khurmi)
Christine Sinacore, Jennifer Zahlit, Kurt Quinn, Ashley Kane, Jessica Hooper. (Nardeep Khurmi)

Actors deliver standout individual performances, hilarious and sympathetic in their journey to economic and social opportunity. Kurt Quinn’s Alfred Packer, driven on by the love of his horse, Liane (Kalena Ranoa), is courageous, charming, and hard not to love. Ranoa plays an excellent role as Packer’s horse, and is scantily dressed in a provocative outfit with a horse puppet on her hand, making for great moments in the songs when sexual innuendos and puns are made regarding the horse. Travis Dixon shines as a gay cowboy, Swan, whose general antics and obsession with building snowmen provides wonderful escapes from the conflict of the show.

All of the singers in the performance are excellent, and musical numbers are masterfully put together by music director Gregory Nabours, who also plays Mills, a fiery and obsessive prosecuting attorney determined to see Packer hang. All of the band members play roles in the show of varying size, including a “Cyclops” from the Civil War, a tribe of Indians playing transplanted Asian stereotypes, and a foreboding and mysterious figure warning the group to turn around. Ashley Kane shines as Polly, a newspaper reporter infatuated with Packer who’s desperate to see him set free.

The Lyric-Hyperion Café and Theatre is an excellent venue for small and innovative theatre. The kind of ingenuity that goes into putting on a production like “Cannibal! The Musical” reminds an audience why many are first enamored of the theatre—for the sheer fun of it. Coeurage Theatre Company may be modest, advertising itself as the only “pay what you want” theatre company in L.A. and allowing audiences to judge what they deserve for the work they put on, but by no means are they unsuccessful. The value of theatre like theirs is priceless, and paying them a visit may give you the theatrical experience you’ve been missing for years.

"Cannibal! The Musical" is playing through November 22 at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre and Café (2106 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles). Tickets are based on a "Pay What You Want" policy. For more information visit www.Coeurage.org

Reach Staff Writer Ryan David McRee here.

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