Alferd Packer didn't live the kind of life that would normally inspire a musical. Then again, perhaps it's not so surprising that the life of the western cannibal inspired Matt Stone and Trey Parker (creators of South Park and The Book of Mormon).
Pineapple-Shaped Lamps presents this cult classic horror dark comedy musical at Hannah Block Community Arts Center through October 21st, with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances at 8:00pm; Sunday at 3:00pm.
Listen to our interview with Patrick Basquill and Katie Anderson above, and see our extended conversation below.
Gina: Cannibal, the musical started off as a film before it was a stage production, as I understand it.
Katie: My name is Katie Anderson and I'm playing the role of Polly Pry.
Patrick: The intrepid female reporter. And I'm a Patrick Basquill and I'm playing Alferd Packer.
Gina: Okay. Cannibal, the musical is based on a true story. Give me a little background about that true story.
Patrick: Well, the true story is a little bit more confusing and a little bit more HBO than South Park. Whereas Alfred Packer, I think he ended up bragging about like eating people on the road and they threw him in an insane asylum for awhile, then he got out and so it's a little bit less of a jaunty tale than it is HBO and like a little bit dark and sinister.
Gina: Okay. I don't even know what you just said, but that's cool.
Katie: It's based on a true guy, like a real guy.
Patrick: It's loosely based on a true story.
Gina: Loosely based on the true story of Alfred Packer and the sorted details of his trip from Utah to Colorado.
Gina: That left five of his fellow travelers dead and partially eaten.
Patrick: Yeah. The story is that they got lost and they had to each other and like, that's what he told people is that, "oh no, they died and then I had to in order to stay alive." But when they went back and did the investigation, they found like knife wounds and some like early CSI stuff. They were like, "ummmm," and they noticed that there was money missing from a couple of the other people and that maybe there had been like kind of a tussle and then he just ate them to eat them because there were some weird stuff. They didn't really trust Alfred Packer. And this goes into the real story is like they didn't really trust him because they split up the parties and he was like, "no, no, I'll lead this party. I love these guys..."
Katie: a little too much.
Gina: Okay. Now the folks who made cannibal the musical, the film, that's kind of significant. Who made the film?
Patrick: That was Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Gina: And we know them from...
Patrick: South Park and Book of Mormon. They did the movie initially as like a school project over their spring break in college and just use what was around them. It was really like very whimsical.
Gina: Obviously this is going to be...well, what kind of words would we use to describe like the South Park type? What kind of words would we use to describe South Park Humor?
Katie: Not family friendly at all. I would say it always pushes the envelope and there's a lot of gags and there's a lot of South Park references in our play. So if you like South Park, you'll like our play.
Patrick: Definitely, like, absurd. I would say like absurd realism where it's like they take the real people and push the envelope and make them a little bit bigger and you can definitely see some of the early dynamics of South Park stuff in the both the original movie and in our stage play.
Gina: And the actual script predates South Park. They made this in 1993 and then they went on to do South Park. So this is kind of like seeing the mind before South Park. I read two interesting little review tidbits about the movie and I understand from you, Patrick, this play is very similar to the movie. Maybe even better though.
Patrick: Yeah, I would say so. I mean we are able to go a little bit more in depth in the play and do some of the things that they want to do, like sort of those winks to the audience. We're able to do that a little bit more completely and play with some of those gags a little bit more fully onstage.
Gina: So about the movie though. A writer in the New York Times said, “It's all pretty stupid, but at times there are refreshingly ludicrous notes that even people old enough to see this movie without a guardian can appreciate.”
Katie: Yeah, I would say that, especially because of all the humor and it's a big group of guys, so that's kind of fun and you see the different dynamics of just a bunch of like testosterone and one room, if you will. Yeah. And I mean just the romance part is really cool.
Patrick: It's an interesting little dynamic where it's like you have the reporter who is not necessarily because she's the first female reporter and the Colorado territory and she's like not necessarily embraced by her people-
Katie: -male counterparts
Patrick: -and then she goes and talks to this cannibal crazy man. And he's like, "yeah, okay. How are you doing?"
Katie: Yeah, I mean he treats her with respect. He's like, "Hey, you treat me with respect. I'll treat you with respect."
Gina: So does Polly fall in love with the cannibal?
Katie: You'll have to come see the show.
Patrick: Probably …
Gina: Let me tell you another review remark. "It has its longueurs, but there's an air of genial enthusiasm tempered by sick humor that is surprisingly engaging." That's from Empire magazine.
Patrick: Yes. It is sick and surprisingly engaging. I'd say that. What does longueurs mean?
Gina: Longueurs is like “long hours.” It's like there's some tedium.
Katie: Yeah, it takes time to make the joke. But I I mean that's why like our play is because like there's so many, like, you know, there's something from this scene that happens in this scene again and kind of like the repeats and then the people coming back and forth is like a big push and the dynamic of it being humorous.
Patrick: I think that a lot of that tedium is sort of like squeezed out once you put it on stage because a lot of that was like based off of them being young student film people and they just kinda like, "oh this is what we do is what we've seen in movies and we're able to." Since it's an adaption of adaption and like a revival is we've been able to just kind of squeeze it out and like, you know, pick the pacing up and so the tedium isn't there and there's more songs, which is always good if you're coming to see a musical.
Patrick: Packer is on trial for the cannibalism of his party as he led them to Colorado territory and he's found guilty and that brings in Ms Polly Pry.
Katie: And I'm trying to figure out did he actually kill them and really I'm trying to pull juicy details for my story because I'm just trying to get a story out. I'm not interested in Packer until I get to know them and you know, you'll see what goes on. But anyway, this whole time he's telling me the truth about what went on and all the stories and slowly trying to convince me what the truth is.
Patrick: I sort of take her through my journey, meeting these guys with my horse, my lovely, lovely horse, Leanne. And, we sort of journey from the Bingham Mine, Utah to Provo, many twists and turns. We meet some people who put us in our place and make everyone realized what a fraud Packer is. And then things kind of take a turn for the worse in our odyssey of sorts and we're forced to confront something dark about ourselves. And that brings me back to Colorado where Packer has been a deposited without any of my party and everyone's growing suspicious and that's where we pick back up with the present after I am caught.
Gina: Do we find out if he killed them or if they died?
Patrick: We do.
Gina: What's the answer?
Katie: You don't get to know yet.
Gina: How many folks do you have in this, in the ensemble?
Patrick: 20, does that sound right?
Katie: 14? Does that sound right?
Patrick: Between 14 and 20.
Katie: 14 and a half.
Patrick: 17. Solid number.
Gina: So over a dozen.
Patrick: We've got over a dozen people in the show and everybody kind of fills multiple roles. So it's harder to keep track. Everybody's pulling double duty on something.
Katie: I played for four different things, characters, roles.
Gina: Tell me about the music.
Katie: There's a lot of jokes in the music, but it's beautiful music. That's one thing. It's easy on the ears.
Patrick: It's good music. It's fun. It covers a lot of different genres. One of the things about the musical is that inherently they're making fun of musicals and so they touched on a lot of those sort of like traditional tropes of musicals. But the thing is, is that it's done lovingly. It's like we understand this. This is why it's funny. This is a weird thing that happens.
Gina: What are your favorite musical pieces?
Katie: Mine is "Shatterproof."
Patrick: That's a beastie boys-esque rap that Packer raps to. I think that I like meet my destiny, which is again, another song that I do. It's kind of like a religious testimonial, soulful piece. So it kind of spans the entire, like just me personally, I sing like your traditional Oklahoma, like "hey, here's the day, it's a great day." And then I have like an eighties power ballad and then I have this soulful religious conversion and then I sing the beastie boys rap.
Katie: So it's a lot of fun.
Gina: Is Kevin Greene doing your choreography?
Patrick: Yeah, he's there. He's there choreographing it and doing a really good job.
Gina: Did you want say anything else, Katie?
Katie: When I came into Cannibal I had no idea. So I didn't audition for the play the first time because I was like, "I don't want to be in something called Cannibal." I'm from a traditional Catholic family. But then I saw the post on Wilmington theater on facebook and it was like, "we have auditions tonight" and I was like, "God's telling me something. I should audition for this Trey Parker musical." And I went and Packer auditioned with me, and we had to dance and I did the Douggie and it was a lot of fun and it's been so much fun being a part of this cast because the majority of acting that I've done has been with the school, so it's cool to like get more out in the community and expand.
Patrick: Wanna talk about Polly the character at all?
Katie: Polly holds her own. The one constant thing about Polly is she's usually in control of the situation and when she's not in control, she's finding ways to reel it back in. And there's kind of a conversion in Polly because I think at the beginning she's like "I'm not really like stoked on men because of how they treat me. I'm a reporter. They don't take me seriously. They say, 'Oh, you have a little journal.' And I'm like, 'I got a lot in this. I got a lot in this and I was the one that, you know, like, found out from Packer.'" And there's this conversion where it's like, "yeah, I trust this guy," you know, and that's why it's so interesting is that like of all people I want to be around, I want to be around this guy, the monster.