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INTERVIEW: JASON MCHUGH DINES ON THE NEW “CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL” SOUNDTRACK CD

Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Interview

By JEFF SZPIRGLAS

Now available from Klaatu Records is a lovingly restored and expanded version of the soundtrack from Trey Parker’s 1990s auspicious debut, Cannibal! The Musical. Distributed by Troma, Parker’s thesis project mashes up his affinity for musical theatre, parody and gruesome fare with the tale of Alferd Packer, the “Colorado Cannibal” who was tried for cannibalism in the 1800s. The overall tone of the film showcases the creative mind that would later helm South Park. Co-producer and co-star Jason McHugh sits down with RUE MORGUE to reminisce about the film and discuss the new release.

Given that you were with Cannibal! from its inception, was it always intended as a musical, or was that something that entered part-way along its journey? Trey Parker has obviously gone on to incorporate plenty of songwriting in South Park, Book of Mormon and beyond. Was he also working on a lot of musical theatre in film school?

Cannibal! was indeed always intended to be a musical. It was originally titled Alferd Packer: The Musical and changed to Cannibal! The Musical when Troma released it, with the notion that the new title would grab more attention to audiences outside of Colorado territory. It was about halfway through the production of the film when it dawned on me that Trey Parker was an actual musical genius. It was the moment I heard the song written for the part of Polly Prye, “This Side of Me.” I was floored and even possibly verklempt upon hearing this moving, but also funny, song. Trey had played the leading role in numerous high school musical productions and wrote songs for his band Ichi Ban, so he brought his writing and performing to the table and that turned into the main course for Cannibal! I am certain that making Cannibal! as this ironically earnest, Americana-style musical is the reason we are still excited about it so many years later!

One of Cannibal!’s pleasures is its silly, free-wheeling vibe. It feels like a bunch of guys having a good time with a camera; songs and all. Even the low-fi synth score has a playful vibe that enhances the final product. Are you able to speak to the general tone of the process of making the film?

The production was a direct extension of the CU Film Department, where the whole team met and learned the basics of making short films. At the time, CU Boulder’s Film Department was the least funded department in the entire university. We had crappy equipment left over from previous decades, but the professors and curriculum were both amazing and fostered great creativity. Basically, all students had to write and direct their own film, while they recruited classmates to work as crew for them. After a few semesters, we all had experience acting on camera and doing every different crew job from camera to sound to assistant directing, etc. This gave us all a chance to find friends and like-minded individuals, as far as filmmaking style. All the film producers were interested in comedies, and Monty Python were the masters we all worshipped. Most of the cast and crew did know each other and there was natural camaraderie, as well as eventual drama and love triangles. It was quite the rocky mountain adventure as we traveled to many of the actual spots where Alferd Packer’s party traveled and chased snow, crossed rivers … basically doing things more professional production companies would never attempt.

What can listeners expect in this version of the soundtrack?

Listeners can expect an auditory journey that makes you feel like you are watching the movie in your mind. The CD producers did an incredible job mixing the lead in dialog before a song starts – so it really draws you in, as you can hear sound effects and dialog like never before that then leads right into the music. I am really excited about this as it’s a different experience than just listening to the songs. I think both diehard fans and new fans will especially love this because it really draws you into the movie in a new way!

I understand that some presumed-lost tapes were found that helped trigger this release. Can you elaborate?

There were some old tapes that did not work, and some new masters unearthed, I believe. I don’t have all the details on how this was pieced together, but the end result is truly Shpadoinkle!

Were there any songs, or ideas for songs, that never made the cut?

The original cut was around two-and-a-half hours long and we almost all agreed that was way too long. We had many debates about how to cut it down and had to kill many funny scenes and one major musical number. Ultimately it was edited to about 93 minutes. There were more scenes with miners lost in the mountains; we had this whole bit about how the Nihonjin Indians had actually invented skiing and then lots of scenes shaven down to their fighting weight. After lots of discussion, Trey cut the musical number and final fight song “Shatterproof” out of the movie, which was tough, but the right choice. The song itself was part of the fight scene with Frenchy in the bar room, but by this time movie had sort of peaked around the Bell/Packer killing scene and it was time to wrap this movie up. The musical style for “Shatterproof” was also techno and didn’t really match the ‘50s Oklahoma musical style that that the rest of the tracks have – so that played into the decision, too. And no, it will not be released as a bonus track someday. Trey has buried it!

Can you tell us a bit more about how the film was translated into the off-Broadway musical?

Soon after Cannibal! was initially released, we had a few people reach out with interest to perform the show, so I decided to start a new company dedicated to making the live show a reality. We had one Rocky Horror shadow cast do a short run and then we began working with young theater producers to adapt the show to stage. Around 1999, Lisa Gardner from New York City adapted the show and had a hit run in a 100-seat theater that was ultimately cut short when all theaters closed due to 9/11. In 2015, the creative team behind Evil Dead: The Musical got their hands on Cannibal! and convinced me to allow them to adapt new songs and a new show structure that makes it play like a classic two act musical. They had a great run in Toronto with this show and they are planning their post-Covid production now. We are still in the early phases of this show’s lifespan on stage!

What was Rich Sanders’ role on the score? He’s also listed as a co-composer, and I’m curious what that would have meant for him and Trey Parker.

Trey wrote all the basic music and has this deeply innate ability to write and play music, but Rich Sanders was the old school pro who had a well-equipped studio and a university full of talented musicians to work with. Rich oversaw the whole thing and built out all the orchestrations, and then produced all the tracks with Trey and his student orchestra. Rich also worked closely with our sound effects and ADR team that included John Null, who went on to do sound for Lucasfilm. Rich was the key facilitator, and we could not have produced the sound and music without him.

Finally, did you ever find out what the real Liane thought about the movie?

I wrote a book called Shpadoinkle! The Making of Cannibal! The Musical (2011), and in it, I certainly wax on more deeply about the whole Liane story since she was a driving force for this film. She provided that heartbreak for Trey that was the catalyst for this movie getting made. So I was just as surprised when Trey suggested the real Liane do the choreography for the “Hang The Bastard” finale song. Liane worked on the original movie and is one of the dancers, too. Of course, she didn’t know how many Liane jokes were in the movie until she saw it. I am sure she had lots of mixed feelings upon seeing Cannibal! and I am sure she, later, did have some deep regrets when seeing her ex on late night talk shows and magazine covers, but she nailed the choreography. The book is available on Amazon and will be also available at cannibalthestore.com in May.

CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL’s original soundtrack is available for purchase now. 

 

Jeff Szpirglas