Sunday, November 2, 2014

Review: Coeurage Theatre Company Gets Gutsy with CANNIBAL! The Musical

L-R: Scott Kruse, Peter Larney, Kurt Quinn, Joshua Hoover, and
Travis Dixon. Photo credit: Nardeep Khurmi.

Long before Trey Parker and Matt Stone became famous and transformed the world of entertainment with South Park and The Book of Mormon, they were merely two unknown college students with big dreams. They shared the same wickedly subversive sense of humor and always wrote what they thought was funny, regardless of anyone else’s opinion. If it made them laugh, that was all they needed. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, I think you’d agree that sticking to that formula has turned out pretty well for them.

While they were at the University of Colorado, they produced a film, CANNIBAL! The Musical, for a class project based on the true story of Alfred Packer, a man accused of cannibalism in 1872. Politically incorrect and ready to offend as often as humanly possible with its bloody effects and lowbrow humor, it was a perfect way for the duo to begin developing their brand. Although most of the participants failed the class, (according to Gregory Nabours, who recounted some trivia on opening night), you can definitely see the beginnings of what’s to come later in their careers.

By the way, if you’re interested in watching the film, it’s available on Netflix so those of you who are gluttons for punishment (pardon the pun)…have at it. The film was later turned into a stage musical that has since gained quite a cult following and that’s the version that Coeurage Theatre Company is currently mounting at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre.

Packer was a prospector who led a party of miners from Utah east to Colorado in search of gold after their original guide died from being struck by lightning. As the charred remains are dragged across the stage in all their graphic glory, you get an idea of exactly how this show is going to go down. Limbs will be severed, bodies will be eaten (quite literally in front of your eyes), and raunchy jokes will take over the next ninety or so minutes of your life. I mean, come on, there’s even a “butt mountain” painted on the backdrop that scrolls melodrama-style behind the actors. If that doesn’t show you what you’re in for, well don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It isn’t a great musical by any stretch of the imagination and depending upon how the material is treated it could turn out to be a real stinker of a show. What Coeurage Theatre does with it, however, is make a series of well-thought-out decisions that turn this silly, oddball musical into a first rate groaner intent on delivering up some terrific laughs.

That includes a director (Tito Fleetwood Ladd, with an assist from Julianne Donelle) who understands the style and stages the show with creativity and a whole lot of balls, a cast that is willing to play the absurd comedy straight, well-executed choreography that parodies everything from the dream ballet in Oklahoma to the street moves of West Side Story (by Carly Wielstein), and a musical director (Gregory Nabours) who elevates Parker’s songs with his fun, flashy arrangements.

The casting is spot-on and contains a couple of ringers, including Peter Larney as the deep-voiced Mormon leader, Bell, and Travis Dixon as Swan, whose Pepsodent smile, painted-on jeans, and ambiguous sexual orientation provide more than a fair share of laughs. All of the characters are eccentric with quirky traits that make each one memorable in his or her own way. 

Kurt Quinn gives Packer an innocence that makes you uncertain whose version of the story is really accurate. Miller (Jason Peter Kennedy) is the intense skeptic whose butchering skills come in handy in the dead of winter. Joshua Hoover (Humphrey) is always worried about his next meal, and Scott Kruse (Noon) has only one topic on his mind at all times…sex, or his balls, or masturbating, or sex. In addition to musical direction, Nabours also flexes his actor muscles by doubling as Mills, the sleazy town sheriff and crazy prosecutor who has his sights set on Polly (Ashley Kane), the sweet, ingénue reporter who harbors a secret ability to play the clarinet.

A twist in the casting has long, leggy Kalena Ranoa playing Liane, Packer’s one true love (his horse). She wears a puppet on one hand and never speaks, but lends a dancer’s poise to the production that balances the male roughness around her. Joe Tomasini (Frenchy), Ryan Brady (Nutter), and Mike Brady (Loutzenheizer) play three bizarre French trappers whose funniest moments include a Matthew Bourne Swan Lake takeoff. Costume designer Kara McLeod assists with that spoof as does Wielstein with her dance moves.

Much of the show is about solving problems: How do you design body parts you can eat? (talk to props designer Ryan Lewis); What kind of clothing will bring the old West to life but allow for jokes about boy bands, the Japanese, and Colorado Indians? (let McLeod take over); How do you stage men on horseback for a lengthy journey in a small space? (have Wielstein incorporate a hilarious Irish jig as a high-stepping repeater every time the music returns); and so on. Coeurage Theatre Company tackles each task with gleeful irreverence and an excellent eye to detail.

The cheeky result is a surprisingly satisfying comedy about people eating dead people and singing & dancing while they do it. Just the thing youd expect for a musical by Trey Parker.  If youve got a sense of humor and dont mind a little gore, youre gonna love it.

L-R: Jason Peter Kennedy, Scott Kruse, Peter Larney, Kurt Quinn,
Travis Dixon, and Joshua Hoover

Ashley Kane and Gregory Nabours

L-R: Scott Kruse, Peter Larney, Kurt Quinn, Travis Dixon,
and Joshua Hoover

L-R: Jessica Hopper, Kurt Quinn, Peter Larney, Kalena Ranoa,
and Jennifer Zahlit

L-R: Christine Sinacore, Jennifer Zahlit, Kurt Quinn,
Ashley Kane, and Jessica Hopper

Peter Larney and Mikey De Lara

L-R: Jane Lui, Jason Peter Kennedy, Peter Larney,
Travis Dixon, and Kari Lee

Oct. 25 – Nov 22, 2014
Coeurage Theatre Company 
Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Cafe
2106 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027

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