Mountain adventure. Courtroom drama. Love story. A gory, dark comedy based on true events. Cannibal! The Musical — the first feature film of Trey Parker, creator of South Park and Book of Mormon — has been busting guts and twisting genres for over two decades. Starting March 14, the professionally revamped stage adaption of Cannibal! is making its U.S. debut at the Overture Center for the Arts. The new full stage version of the film was adapted by Christopher Bond, co-creator and director of Evil Dead The Musical; Trevor Martin, co-writer of Night of the Living Dead Live; and composer Aaron Eyre.
The 1993 cult film started off as just a three-minute trailer for a film production class at the University of Colorado Boulder. Parker, alongside longtime partner Matt Stone and others, eventually finagled their college project into a low-budget film. They even crashed the 1994 Sundance Film Fest with it, putting on unofficial screenings of the film during the annual festival in Park City, Utah.
Cannibal! revisits the true story of 19th-century gold prospector Alferd Packer — the only man convicted of cannibalism in the United States. It all started in 1874, when Packer was on a trip from Provo, Utah, to the gold fields in Breckenridge, Colorado. Despite being advised against it, Parker and four other men trekked through the high peaks of the Rockies in the dead of winter. Two months later, Parker descended from the mountains alone. The exact details remain a mystery, but Parker claims the four other men killed each other for food, and he survived the gruesome conditions by living off their flesh.
Before he created the animated TV hit South Park, Trey Parker wrote, directed, produced and starred in Cannibal! Jason McHugh, author of Shpadoinkle: The Making of Cannibal! The Musical, was in the cast as well as being one of the executive producers for the original film. McHugh secured the rights and helped launch the first stage version of the musical, which was performed off-Broadway in 2001. Over the years, different versions of the musical have been performed at fringe festivals and by small theater companies around the world. The Cannibal! debuting at Overture is a much “deeper adaption,” says McHugh, than past productions. The campy, dark comedy has been given the full Broadway musical treatment, too.
“The one caveat of the stage show has been you can’t mess with the music. It’s the sacred cow that we have always been careful to preserve. Trey has certainly gone on to prove his musical geniusness,” says McHugh. “We let people do anything they wanted with their own adaptation; there was room for artistic license. But the only rule we stuck to was the music has to stay the same.”
When Bond, Martin and Eyre inquired about producing a new version of Cannibal! with new songs that weren’t in the original film, McHugh was skeptical. Even so, McHugh let the trio take a stab at it. He was “blown away” by what they came up: Six new songs were added to the musical’s original eight.
“It really stayed true to the original vision,” says McHugh. “What people love about Cannibal! is it’s an imperfect film. It had some structural issues that we just didn’t recognize when making our first film. In this all-new version, those issues get addressed by the musical being reworked into this proper, two-act Broadway show. It’s come a long way.”