Years before the multi-Tony-winning BOOK OF MORMON took Broadway audiences by storm, even before they teamed to create TV’s SOUTH PARK, Trey Parker and college pal Matt Stone collaborated on Parker’s first-ever feature film, CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL while studying film at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Fellow film student Jason McHugh not only appeared in the film alongside Parker, he also served as the project’s producer. Once released, the student film, which tells the tale of prospector Alferd Packer, lone survivor of an ill-fated trek to the Colorado Territory in the late 1800s who survived by cannibalistic measures…set to music, of course, garnered a wider audience the film quickly reached cult movie status.
With it’s origin steeped in terrifying folklore and a toe-tapping, head-scratching soundtrack from the outrageous mind of Trey Parker, it was only a matter of time before CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL flipped the switch and became a stage musical. Much like fans of THE ROCKY HORRO PICTURE SHOW, CANNIBAL! devotees soon began presenting screenings of the film complete with “shadow casts” mirroring the action on the screen.
A few years later, Christopher Bond and his frequent writing partner, Trevor Martin approached Parker’s camp about turning the show into a full-on Broadway-style musical and the current incarnation of CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL was born. Retaining all the gross-out humor audiences have come to expect from Parker, Bond and Martin, who had teamed previously for EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL, have expanded on the original by adding a few new tunes. Having recently embarked on their 2017 US Tour, CANNIBAL! opens in Nashville at TPAC‘s Polk Theatre on Friday, March 24 and continues through Sunday, March 26.
Just as Nashville audiences prepare to devour the tasty musical morsel that is CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL, I had a chance to chat with the show’s executive producer, Jason McHugh, as well as two of the stars, Benjamin Zoëy and Michelle Nash, so sit back and sink your teeth into the latest installment of my recurring celebrity interview, Rapid Fire.
Rapid Fire 10 Q with executive producer and stars of Trey Parker’s CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL
Rapid Fire with Benjamin Zoëy, Alferd Packer in CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL
JP: Since we only have three questions, I’m not going to waste one asking about those two dots above the ‘E” in your last name ;-)….instead…Prior to being cast as Alferd Packer, were you familiar with either his real-life story, or the hilarious 1993 film?
BENJAMIN ZOËY: I’ve been a long-time fan of the film! My friends and I used to watch it in college and sing along to all of the songs, so it was a totally surreal and exciting moment to be cast in the stage version. In preparation for the role, I was surprised to see just how much of the film actually stays true to the real Alferd Packer’s story, albeit with Trey Parker’s trademark sense of humor. As for my name, I guess the umlauts will have to remain a mystery!
JP: For those who may not be familiar with the show, or the movie that preceded it, you’re playing Alferd Packer, the role Trey Parker wrote and played in the original 1993 film. How cool is that?
BENJAMIN ZOËY: I grew up on South Park, and The Book of Mormon was the first show I ever saw on Broadway. I’ve always been a huge fan of Trey Parker’s work, so I feel really honored to get to play a role he created and played himself! On top of that, Alferd is a meaty role with a great story and a lot of fun and hysterical songs.
JP: As is typical, considering the creative team’s projects–ranging from Parker and Stone’s SOUTH PARK and BOOK OF MORMON, to director Bond’s EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL and A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE—CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL is presented with a lot of gross-out humor and outrageous antics. Night after night, as you take to the stage, is there any aspect of the show at which point you find yourself thinking… “What in the world are we doing?”
BENJAMIN ZOËY: Cannibal! features all of the ridiculous humor you would expect from both Parker and Bond. There are plenty of fun gross-out moments, but the show also goes beyond that and manages to tell a surprisingly relatable story. There is one pivotal moment in the second act, when the miners are deciding on whether or not to eat one of their companions, that always elicits a strong “ewww” from the audience. Without spoiling the surprise, it’s definitely a moment where I have to psych myself up and I can’t help but think “I have the weirdest job in the world!” But I love it! I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rapid Fire with Michelle Nash, Polly Pry in CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL
JP: Prior to being cast as Polly, you appeared in Bond’s EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL. Is that connection how you came to join the cast of CANNIBAL!
MICHELLE NASH: That definitely has something to do with it! Having worked with Bond in the past more than once, I was more inclined to be a part of their other work.
JP: Tell me a little about Polly Pry?
MICHELLE NASH: Polly Pry is a determined, fierce reporter who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. However, as she gets to know the real Alferd Packer, you get to see her walls come down and she finds herself in conflict with wanting to further her career and also having feelings for her subject.
JP: Dang, one last question before I chat with your executive producer…IF you were to find yourself in Alferd Packer’s situation while on the current CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL tour, who in the company would you snack on first, and why?
MICHELLE NASH: If I was to snack on anyone in the company first, it would definitely be our Alferd Packer, played by Benjamin Zoëy. He’s a vegan and lives a healthier lifestyle than me, so I feel like he would add a lot of nutritional value to my diet.
Rapid Fire with Jason McHugh, Executive Producer, CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL
JP: From what I know, you Trey Parker and Matt Stone were in school together. How did your initial involvement in the film version of CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL come to be?
JASON MCHUGH: Back at CU Boulder I was in a acting class with Trey Parker and Dian Bachar and a film class with Matt Stone. It was in the Film Studies Dept. where we all bonded as they had an amazing creative environment, where everyone got to write and direct their own film and eventually like minded individuals would find each other to collaborate on these shorts. So small creative gangs emerged and we were the guys who we’re generally attracted to comedy and all agreed that Monty Python were the greatest filmmakers on earth.
JP: CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL is loosely based on the true story of 1870s prospector Alferd Packer who, while traveling from Utah to Colorado, resorted to cannibalistic measures to become the sole survivor of his group. Had you heard of Alferd Packer prior to working on the 1993 film CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL?
JASON MCHUGH: Having grown up in Northern California the only cannibalistic cowboys I had ever heard of was the infamous Donner Party, who ran into trouble crossing the Sierra’s about ten years prior to Alferd Packer’s ill fated journey. It certainly did not take long to hear about Alferd Packer once at The University of Colorado, as the campus cafeteria and grill are named after him and back in the 90’s they even had Alferd Packer Day, complete with a look alike contest, a meat eating contest and a big old barbecue, where they served beer and had live music – the whole event was sponsored by a local radio station – it was like St Paddy’s day for meat lovers.
JP: You produced and acted in the film, and went on to become executive producer of the subsequent stage play. What’s your favorite aspect of the stage version vs the original film?
JASON MCHUGH: Even with all the die hard fans who have seen the movie “Hundreds of times,” I can safely say that I have seen this show more than you have, either as the original movie or the adapted stage version! We have now worked with over 120 different theater groups, who have mounted the stage show since 1998 and each time they bring something new to it. Sometimes they offer a local adaptation that ties in some local humor, but what usually gets me most excited is seeing the different approaches to the various roles by new performers that breath new life into each character with their unique talent. Part of my job has been to collect the best stage innovations that have emerged through out the years and make them available for each new production – so the show could grow better with time. It’s certainly very fulfilling to see the show get to this next level of shpadoinkle that will be enjoyed on stage in Nashville.
JP: With your earlier creative partners apparently a little busy with projects like twenty seasons of SOUTH PARK and the Tony-winning musical BOOK OF MORMON, CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL enlisted the aide of Christopher Bond (EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL); writer Trevor Martin, who previously teamed with Bond on A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE; and composer Aaron Eyre, music director for the U.S. National Tour of Bond’s EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL). They’ve added a few new songs to the original, and no-doubt added their own flavor to the work. Was it a no-brainer to entrust these guys with the project?
JASON MCHUGH: It was an almost no-brainer. Part of the beauty with Cannibal! up until now was that anyone could adapt the movie to the stage and my company New Cannibal Society would help you do that with pretty wide open parameters and only one major rule, which was; in no way shape or form can you alter the music and lyrics by Trey Parker, who has proven his musical genius abilities a few times over by now. Trey’s original music had always been the sacred cow for Cannibal! So initially I was thrilled to hear from “The Evil Dead Guys” and Cannibal! had been playing at many of the same venues where Evil Dead: The Musical had played, so it made sense creatively. And then of course Chris, Trevor and Aaron wanted to adapt the music and add songs and I basically told them “No you can’t do that, sorry.” To their credit, they didn’t take “no” for an answer and went ahead and adapted the show with new music and when they sent me the files that I had “pre-rejected” I was blown away. The main kicker that won me over was that these guys stayed true to the original film and were able to insert songs into scenes that were actually hungry for songs. They managed to take our kind of funny court room scene from the original film and turn it into a rousing opening musical number called “Gentlemen of the West” that sets the stage show in motion. And of course most importantly, they were able to add songs to the show that both made you laugh and were impossible to get of your head – just like so many of Trey Parker’s greatest hits!
CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL plays Nashville’s Polk Theatre at TPAC from Friday, March 24-Sunday, March 26 with performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and a final Sunday matinee at 1:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $30-$65. Click Here for tickets. Follow CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Keep up with what’s coming next to TPAC by following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well.
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