Silence! The Musical
The aphorism "silence is golden" might be modified to "’Silence’ is cheesy but pricelessly funny" when applied to a divinely silly musical parody that has made its way to the West Coast while its Off-Broadway run continues to flourish.
Director-choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s outrageously irreverent New York International Fringe Festival hit, "Silence! The Musical!" is a no-holds-barred sendup of Jonathan Demme’s bloodcurdling 1992 film thriller, "Silence of the Lambs," that Oscar-winning ode to fava beans and Chianti, butch novice detectives and heads on a platter.
The saga of ruthless Hannibal the Cannibal who matches wits with determined but neurotic FBI rookie Clarice -- opponents who were first introduced in Thomas Harris’ bestselling novel -- becomes fodder for an outrageous and wacky spoof, conceived and executed with such consummate craft and fearless conviction that it almost elevates giddiness and calculated vulgarity to high art.
The music and lyrics by Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan, the brothers who originally conceived this project as a film, and the book by Hunter Bell are less concerned with dramaturgic coherency than in eliciting sketch-comedy-style belly laughs by skewering the film’s somber and shocking plot developments and ambience while simultaneously sending up the conventions of film and stage musicals.
Gattelli’s production numbers suggest Bob Fosse on steroids, popping up in the unlikeliest of places. A contingent of ensemble members support the madness, periodically emerging from backstage in cutesy lamb costumes (ingeniously designed by David Kaley), complete with floppy ears and Easter Bunny-type preciousness, appearing to be suitable for an animated Disney musical, as the creatures croon lyrics seemingly geared for a blue movie.
As in any parody, the more familiar you are with the film, the more the wall-to-wall gags will click for you. The most obvious targets for sendup are the film’s Oscar-winning lead performances, namely Anthony Hopkins’ ruthless serial murderer Hannibal, and Jodie Foster’s earnest but vulnerable heroine, Clarice, hoping to gain information from Hannibal to help her find and apprehend another serial killer, Buffalo Bill (played by Stephen Bienskie, a master at farcical scenery chewing).
Davis Gaines (well known for his years starring in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway, in L.A., and elsewhere) brilliantly emulates Hopkins’ self-important diction and attitude. Here the film’s chilling portrait of a sociopathic monster seems more like a ham-handed diva anxious to wow the crowds. Davis leads the ensemble in multiple encores of a deliciously lewd song whose reprised lyrics are lifted from a particularly dicey line of dialogue from the film. Suffice it to say that Rodger and Hammerstein never would have thought of composing an X-rated ballad about lust for a particular female body part, expressed via a most derogatory term.
Yet the star attraction here is Christine Lakin, whose take on Foster’s portrayal of lisping, ever-intense Clarice is focused as much on the subtext surrounding Foster’s then-closeted demeanor as it is on the deadly-serious female law enforcer that she played.
A member of L.A.’s renowned Troubadour Theatre Company troupe, Lakin boasts finely honed skills in playing parody and sardonic humor. She slips into the demands of this role with moxie and an unerring sense of hilarity, simultaneously conjuring the auras of both Foster and Clarice with uncanny precision.
The ensemble cast is grade-A, highlighted by lanky Jeff Hiller’s ear-to-ear grinning and his comedic versatility in a vast array of characterizations. This actor comes here from the New York cast, reprising his invaluable contributions to the enterprise.
LaToya London is a hoot as an FBI co-worker with a touch of suppressed Sapphic fascination for Clarice. She aces a clever song lamenting the smallness of her role (shades of the Lady in the Lake in "Spamalot").
The uproarious Kathy Deitch scores in multiple roles, including a clueless victim of the lecherous Buffalo Bill and this character’s grandstanding Senator mother. Adding to the sublime effort are Jeff Skowron, Melissa Sandvig, Karl Warden, and John Kassir.
The design elements match the delightfully campy sensibility of the script, score and performances, with salutes due to Jeff Croiter’s lighting, Carl Casella’s sound, Richard H. DiBella’s video effects, Byron Batista’s wigs, and an uncredited recreation of Scott Pask’s original scenic design. Music director Nate Patten serves the deliberately tacky but continually sidesplitting score well.
What’s next for this talented if demented team? Might I suggest "Rosemary’s Baby: The Musical"?