If you relish classic lines like “Surely, you can’t be serious” and know that the follow-up is “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley,” then you are the perfect audience for Silence!, a Zucker Brothers/Jim Abrahams-like parody of Silence of the Lambs. That’s right, the Oscar-winning Jonathan Demme film about a rookie FBI agent who turns to a brilliant serial killer for help catching another murderer has been transformed into an unlikely musical. Hannibal Lecter even sings! Along the way chianti, fava beans, and nice suits lead to a thrilling conclusion.
The story is mostly the same except it’s played for the broadest possible laughs. As aspiring agent Clarice Starling, Christine Lakin has Jodie Foster’s thick, West Virginia accent down perfectly. Credit also goes to costume designer David Kaley for wisely sticking to the original film’s look. As Lecter, Davis Gaines (the longest-running “Phantom” in Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles) plays “Hannibal the Cannibal” with perfect timing and his gorgeous voice remains intact. Thank God, because the title of his first big song can’t be printed in a family publication, but if you know the movie, you can probably guess. (Think of Clarice’s first visit to the asylum.) Suffice to say it is every bit as tasteless as some of the moments in The Book of Mormon and like that musical, song titles are not to be found in the program. Stephen Bienskie plays Buffalo Bill down to the dramatic reveal of the infamous “tuck,” and he is just as committed to the material as the rest of this fine cast, whether playing it straight (so to speak) or for laughs.
Creators Jon Kaplan, Al Kaplan, and Hunter Bell know Silence of the Lambs and Broadway musicals equally well. Sprinkled throughout the clever satire of the film are references to other musicals and tropes of the genre. Part of the fun is spotting them (though the Newsies bit feels more like a commercial for director/choreographer Christopher Gattelli than an organic part of the show).
As with Airplane! and other cinema parodies not all of the jokes land, and what inspires laughter will vary from person to person. If you were to ask, “What can I make out of this?” my initial response would be “A hat, a brooch or a pterodactyl.” But the reality is with over 75% of the jokes landing, this 90-minute musical is good, not at all clean, fun.
[Photos by Michael Lamont]