City could cannibalize theater idea to attract more visitors

It would rank as a strange turn indeed, if Grand Junction’s downtown were to be guided to rejuvenation by the likes of Alferd Packer.

Packer’s first foray into the guide business ended in disaster when the five miners he was taking to Breckenridge back in 1874 were eaten by none other than Packer himself.

Packert said he didn’t kill to eat, but fell to munching on his fellow man who had already been, providentially enough, rendered suitable for consumption by one miner who offed the others and was ready to do the same to Packer.

Packer was loathe to pack it in and he emerged the victor — and the lone diner.

Packer’s is not necessarily an uplifting tale, even though he beat a murder rap and avoided the noose. All that is familiar enough to anyone who follows the efforts of the Museum of the West and Mesa State College to put more meat on the bones of the West’s tales, primarily Packer’s.

Since the day he walked out of the San Juans, Packer has been an object of fascination, albeit one that engenders a queasiness usually associated with bad oysters or a bit of underdone potato.

That, of course, is an uncomfortable segue into the whole business of dinner theater, but, like Packer, we take our help where we find it.

Last weekend, nearly 1,000 people shelled out perfectly good money for seats at The Avalon Theatre to see “Cannibal! The Musical” put on by the Lost Theatre Troupe.

The lost theater to which the name refers is the dead-as-a-miner Cabaret Theater on the opposite side of Seventh Street from The Avalon. The Cannibal of the play’s title is, of course, Packer.

With luck, some of the downtown restaurants and merchants got some spillover business from the theater-goers who lined up to see the show about Packer.

It was, after all, the first time that live musical theater had made an appearance downtown in about two years.

The turnout for “Cannibal! The Musical” clearly demonstrates there is an appetite for that kind of live entertainment.

“Cannibal” grossed more than $11,000, or more than $11 a head, each still on the hoof, as it were.

That shouldn’t be a lesson lost on the city’s powers that be.

When the Cabaret collapsed more than a year ago, it was generally assumed that the show died for lack of an audience.

Not so, as Packer aptly demonstrates.

Theater-goers might not have been fully appreciated because the Cabaret captured them for a meal and a show ticket, leaving little to be spread around to other downtown businesses.

Still, people traveled from across western Colorado to see live musical theater, making downtown something of an entertainment hub.

Somewhere here lies opportunity, if the powers that be have the wit to see it.

The Lost Theatre Troupe would like nothing more than to put together more shows. There should be opportunity for an entrepreneurial restaurateur or two to offer dinner and Avalon theater packages. Hotels might do the same.

All those would generate sales-tax revenue, the sustenance the city craves, every bit as much as Packer craved roast rib of miner.

Back in the go-go days of 2008, the city viewed the Cabaret as just an expendable little business no one would miss, especially because it kept whining about progress in the form of the roundabout at Seventh and Main streets.

Now the tables have turned. The city is cutting salaries and, forgive the term, cannibalizing all it can to keep its staff on board and the doors open.

The Avalon has the potential to be the draw the city needs for downtown. The Lost Theater Troupe would love to see that project through.

Now if the city has the good sense to make the most of this opportunity, it could come out of this hard spell like Packer.

Better Packer’s fate, after all, than that of his miners.


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