When Theatre Artists Olympia did "Cannibal: The Musical" four years ago, it was just one in a series of shows with themes or mentions of cannibalism.
“This is the pinnacle of the cannibal cycle, I think,” director Pug Bujeaud said at the time. “I think we’re done after this.”
Starting Thursday, though, “Cannibal” is back.
The return of Trey Parker’s musical about Alferd Packer was much requested, said Bujeaud, who’s directing again. It was last offered in December 2006 – during an ice storm, so not many people got a chance to see it.
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For those who haven’t, the story follows Packer, who is often referred to as the only U.S. citizen to be convicted of cannibalism, but in fact was convicted only of murder.
A quick synopsis from www. cannibalthemusical.net: “While searching for gold and love in the Colorado Territory, he and his companions lost their way and resorted to unthinkable horrors, including toe-tapping songs!”
“ ‘Cannibal’ is not all that bloody and disturbing,” Bujeaud said. “It’s a riff on ‘Oklahoma!’ Alferd Packer is basically trying to find his horse through most of the show. He leads his compatriots on a wild goose chase after his horse.”
Of course, what one person considers not too disturbing might still be too much for another. One of the press photos for the show shows Christian Doyle, playing Packer, biting into a bloody fake hand.
Even for those who did catch the show last time around, this rendition of “Cannibal” won’t be hauntingly familiar.
“I think we have about 10 people in the show who have been in the show before, but nobody is playing the same part,” Bujeaud said.
“If I could have pulled the cast that I had last time back together, I would have loved to have done that because we had a wonderful time,” she added, noting that several of 2006’s cast members have since moved to New York City to pursue theater careers there. “But since I couldn’t, I didn’t want it to be an imitation of what was.”
Last time, the show’s “Indians” were a group of drag queens, and this time, they’ve become Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.
“We have some kids involved in the show,” Bujeaud said. “We’re being very careful. They get corralled into their little space when things that are untoward are happening.”
The tunes also have been recast by musical director Matt Ackerman.
“It’s a rock and roll ‘Cannibal,’ ” Bujeaud said. “We’ve got a three-piece rock band behind us.” (That’s Ackerman on guitar, Brion McCoy on bass and Charlie Thompson on drums.)
“We’re changing it up all the way through,” Ackerman said. “A few of (the songs) are pretty light and poppy with just a little bit of grit. We’ve got one that’s like an ’80s power ballad, and then we’ve got a reggae tune, and ‘Let’s Build a Snowman,’ which is pretty much bluegrass all the way.”
And there’s a new location for the production: the Eagles Hall Underground.
While that sounds a little spooky, the reasoning for the location change was not atmospheric but financial, said Bujeaud, who is also TAO’s artistic director. In larger spaces, rents have gotten too high for the small company.
“It’s a basement space,” the director said. “We are bringing in lights; we are bringing in risers; we are turning it into a theater for the run of our show. We have a big pole in the middle of our stage, but we are going to play with it.”