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Cannibal! The Musical. Cannibal! The Musical began life as a movie written by pre-South Park and Book of Mormon Trey Parker, back when he was a film student at the University of Colorado. It starred Parker himself and Matt Stone, and later evolved — or perhaps degenerated — into a stage production that bears all the hallmarks of a Parker-Stone collaboration: juvenile humor, lots of blood, complete irreverence, the slaughter of innocents and, every now and then, one of those imaginative comic leaps that leaves you amazed and laughing your head off. The action begins with a major bloodletting, a fantasy in which the performers enact a prosecutor's description of Alferd Packer's crimes. Found guilty and awaiting execution, Packer is visited by news reporter Polly Pry and tells her his version of the story. As he presents himself, Packer is almost Candide-like in his youth and inexperience, and innocently in love with his horse, Liane. On the expedition, he encountered a tribe of Indians with Japanese accents and three murderous trappers, one of whom, Frenchy, had designs on Liane far less innocent than his. This production presents Cannibal! in exactly the dumb, boisterous way it requires; watching is sort of like observing a group of six-year-old boys at a birthday party leaping on trampolines, hamming it up for each other, trying to top each other's jokes and farts. It's a lot of fun for a while, but like a wounded snake, the production drags itself across the stage for close to three hours, with jokes that were only mildly funny to begin with repeated over and over. By the second hour, the cast is still having a high old time — and so is much of the audience — but the play has corpsed and is beginning to smell. Presented by Next Pony and Planet X Productions through November 26, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, 303-477-9984, Reviewed November 17.

Phantom. While playwright Arthur Kopit and composer Maury Yeston were still putting together Phantom, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera

trundled onto the scene, and their backers vanished — along with any chance of a Broadway opening. This Phantom is much smaller-scale than Webber's, with less spectacle and more emphasis on the agonized humanity of the Phantom himself — though all the Gothic impulses animating Gaston LeRoux's original novel are still present. The plot: Beautiful Christine's beautiful soprano is discovered by the womanizing Count Philippe de Chandon, who secures her a place at the Paris Opera. But the organization has just been taken over by the Cholets, a nasty, scheming couple who have fired faithful long-term manager Carriere and intend to use the opera to showcase the ghastly voice of self-infatuated Carlotta Cholet. Poor Christine ends up in the costume shop rather than on stage, but beneath the imposing gray edifice lurks Erik, with his cohort of writhing lost souls. Music is his only solace, and having once heard Christine sing, he promptly offers her lessons; the first of these gives rise to one of the loveliest and most charming duets of the evening, "You Are Music." Musical-comedy ingenues are usually hard to like — pretty, simpering puppets — but Maggie Sczekan is not of this ilk. She has the kind of rich, expressive voice you want to listen to all night, and all the range and musicality this operatic (or at least operetta-ish) score demands; Markus Warren turns in an equally strong turn as the Phantom. Their performances are supported by clean, professional staging; a cunningly contrived set; elegant costumes; and a group of poised and experienced actors who know when to move into the limelight and when to step back and let the principals have the stage. Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through February 18, 2012, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, Reviewed November 24.

A Streetcar Named Desire. When Blanche, desperate and destitute, comes to live with her sister Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, she finds Stella sexily and happily married to Stanley, a working-class yob. The couple's home in the steamy New Orleans French Quarter is a long way from the sisters' privileged Southern-belle background, and Blanche, with her fluttery, self-indulgent  mannerisms, is like a red flag to Stanley's bull. The man may be uneducated, but he's hardly stupid, and he understands that the issues of class and propriety Blanche represents are a direct threat to his marriage. Hence his redoubled fury when he discovers how thin, frayed and dishonest her claim to gentility really is. The tiny stage at Germinal brings into strong focus something I'd only half-noticed in the play before: These people are living in suffocating proximity to each other, denied even a whisper of privacy for sex or conversation, forced to change clothes under only the flimsiest of cover. Stanley's friend Mitch must court Blanche within earshot of Stanley's noisy poker games; Stanley fumes outside the bathroom when he needs to take a leak because his sister-in-law is enjoying the long soaks she claims she needs to settle her nerves. An excellent production of a play as great as Streetcar — and this is such a production — always shifts your interpretation a little. Nuances alter; you understand the characters differently. Tom Borrillo isn't an obvious choice for Stanley, who's usually presented as a magnetically sensuous hunk, but he makes the character real and down to earth, clumsily bearish rather than macho, but keeping you aware at all times of Stanley's capacity for violence. I've seen Stella played as a contented cow, and Blanches who are all frantic jitter, but the characterizations here go deeper. Presented by Germinal Stage Denver through December 11, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, Reviewed November 17.


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