Every theater production is someone's labor of love. The amount of work required to mount any show means dozens of people forgo regular sleep, incur unexpected expenses, suffer moments of self-doubt and battle technical nuisances before the first audience member arrives. You don't endure all that unless you have great enthusiasm for what you're doing.
Cannibal! The Musical is a dazzling example of the labor of love in action. Brian and Suki Peters' independently produced adaptation of South Park co-creator Trey Parker's low-budget musical/horror film stars a cast of 22, an ambitious stage design, a brief introductory film that revels in gore and projected closing credits that are fully illustrated. This show, as daffy and intentionally crude as it may be, is proof that enthusiasm and love are more important to a show's success than the size of the budget or the plushness of the theater itself.
Based on a real-life people eater, our hero and titular cannibal is Alferd Packer (Keith Parker), a jocular rube who leads a prospecting expedition to the gold-rich Colorado Territory in what turns out to be a fatal journey for everyone besides Packer himself. Packer's only interest in life is his horse, Liane (played by Betsy Bowman-Saule in fur pants and a wheeled, horse-shaped caboose she lugs behind her), who disappears early in the journey. Alferd believes she's been stolen by the evil trapper Frenchy Cabazon (Dennis Folwarczny, a splendidly boisterous villain with an epic mullet), and leads his party way off-course in search of Liane. Desperation sets in and people get eaten in the name of survival, but is Alferd the hungry killer?
Keith Parker plays Alferd with gormless charm, and he wrings every bit of innuendo out of his love song to his missing Liane, "When I Was on Top of You." (Even his fellow miners are aghast by the end of that one.) The cast as a whole is exemplary; there are no wasted roles, and everybody from the Civil War veteran Cyclops (Maxwell Knocke) to the stagehands dressed as ninjas (Morgan Hatfield and Valleri Dillard) get their chance to shine. Bowman utters not a single word as Liane but conveys her entire character through head bobs and facial expressions. As loudmouthed, dorky miner Humphrey, Eustace Allen imbues each of his lines with pinpoint comic timing. Nicole Angeli plays multiple roles — townspeople, a horny Indian squaw — but absolutely destroys as the featured tap dancer, Snowbunny, during the rousing musical number "Let's Build a Snowman."
Angeli's wide-eyed, enthusiastic hoofing is emblematic of the show as a whole: It's an anarchic moment of whimsy, performed with the utmost professionalism, in a show about a man-eating idiot in love with a horse. If you can't applaud that sort of commitment to lunacy, Cannibal! might not trip your trigger. More's the pity.