A shpadoinkle night
South Park creator’s musical spoof is perfect late night fare
Chico, CA 95928
Almost three decades after the notorious Donner Party’s fateful excursion into the Sierra Nevada, Alfred “Alferd” Packer led a party of his own into the wilderness. He emerged alone from the Rocky Mountains in the spring of 1874, and after the murdered and partially eaten remains of his fellow prospectors were subsequently discovered, Packer became famous (in Colorado, at least) as the only man ever convicted of cannibalism in America.
It’s an intriguing, if gruesome, story and perfect material for a musical! Well, it is if the musical gets under way at about 10:30 p.m. and is currently showing as part of the Blue Room Theatre’s irreverent Late Nite series. And it’s especially appropriate fodder if the creator of the musical is one half of the South Park team, Trey Parker.
Made while he was still a student at the University of Colorado, Parker’s film Cannibal! The Musical was released in 1996 with the tagline: “Lost without food, they must turn to the ultimate horror: Eating each other … and, of course, singing and dancing!”
For the Blue Room’s production, director Melanie Smith adapted the play from the film’s screenplay, and the action begins with a shadow-puppet re-enactment of the horrors on the mountain, followed by Packer (Sean Doughty) sitting in jail awaiting trial. A flirtatious newspaper reporter named Polly Pry (Marissa Colwell) tricks him into telling his side of the story, and with a couple of hand puppets providing transitional narration, the ill-fated expedition unfolds.
If you’re at all familiar with Parker’s work, you know that turning taboo subjects into musical comedy is his forté, and led by the lively piano stylings of Allison Rich (who also arranged the score), a live four-piece (featuring washboard!) propelled the musical story of death in the cold mountains via Oklahoma!-inspired spoofery.
There’s the trio of Mad Max-attired trappers singing about eating beaver butts; Packer longing for his beloved, farting horse Liane in the not-so-subtle “When I Was on Top of You”; and the musical’s memorable shpadoinkle refrain:
“The sky is blue and all the leaves are green / My heart’s as full as a baked potato” (or, depending on which song the lines show up in, “the sun’s as warm as a baked potato” or “the air’s as pure as a baked potato”) “I think I know precisely what I mean / When I say it’s a shpadoinkle day.”
Doughty is great as the clueless leader of the expedition, and his singing voice was almost too good for the sappy tune on which he took the lead. My favorite character, though, was probably one of the prospectors, William Saporito (as James Humphry). With the ear-flaps of his hat sticking out like the Flying Nun, the affectation of his voice killed me—kind of a monotonic cartoonish quality that was perfectly timed and well-suited to Parker’s brand of straight-faced ridiculousness.
The whole cast was fun. It was a raucous night of irreverent live theater, and the opening-night crowd was definitely in the spirit, whooping along with the action and laughing at every little thing (and I mean every little thing) that the actors did. The actors seemed to feed off the fun, and they pushed right back with their own amplified energy, especially the impossibly gravelly voiced Don Eggert as one of the prospectors, Rebecca Jines as the fishnet-wrapped trapper Frenchy Cabazon and the always ready to rock Erika Soerensen as the leather-bodiced German Indian chief.
Though I wouldn’t want them to smooth the fun out of the production, a couple of rough edges could stand some attention. I don’t know if there’s a way to effectively dampen the piano, as some of the vocals were drowned out by it—they may be stuck with asking the actors to ramp it up (especially impressive tap-dancer Stephanie Gilbert for her character Israel Swan’s otherwise infectious ditty, “Let’s Build a Snowman”). But the puppeteers for sure need amplification. I sat in the third row and half of the puppet dialogue was inaudible.
Those are just minor annoyances though, and were easily forgotten amid the energetic swirl of the campy spectacle. Despite being two long acts worth of late-night production, the action was continually ramped up, reaching an all-cast chorus crescendo that left me energized and smiling and only a touch weary.