This ribald, razzmatazz retelling of the Oscar-winning and awfully frightful film The Silence of the Lambs — in dulcet musical tones and Fosse'esque interpretive dance and complete with a Greek chorus of limber lambs — was a cult hit in New York and across the country. And now, it's in La-la Land!
While L.A. isn't known as a mecca of theater, there are some good shows to be seen; especially those of the outré sort. I've attended quite a few horror musicals here — from The Fly: The Opera, to versions of Jeckyl & Hyde, and Re-Animator — but my new favorite, by about a size 14, is Silence! The Musical.
I must admit… I was a bit skeptical, especially when a friend who'd already seen it (and loved it) told me it was crude and raunchy. Usually, I associate those words with hi-jinks of the sort which appeal to teenage boys which is, frankly, not the demographic I relate to. I walked into the Hayworth Theatre with slight trepidation, but practically pranced out with unabashed appreciation.
According to the handouts, some of the roles were played by understudies (including the pivotal one of Clarice Starling) but the show is so tight and titillating, as a first timer you'd never know the difference. Christine Lakin normally stars, but Alaine Kashian is amusingly accurate with her earnest manner, cheap brown pantsuit paired with an even cheaper brown wig, and thick accent ("I'll look within my-shelf").
Davis Gaines is haughty and naughty by turns as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, while Jeff Skowron as Buffalo Bill not only has the most shocking reveal in the musical, but the most memorable mumble this side of Brando.
Jesse Merlin (from Re-Animator: The Musical) is dashingly charming as the Wile E. Coyote character of Dr. Chilton. The poor guy can never catch a break and gets shut down at every turn, but he's plucky. He never gives up, and can he ever hold a note (if not his pen). Jeff Hiller as Sgt. Pembry (and in a few other roles… in fact, the cast reinvents itself quite a few times, with raucous results) is simply sublime.
The songs in this black sheep comedy are all mock and droll fantasy, with teasing tunes ranging from "If I Could Smell Your Cunt" to “Are You About A Size 14,” “Quid Pro Quo,” “My Daughter Is Catherine (Catherine’s Her Name)”, and the biggest hit of the show, Buffalo Bill's “I’d Fuck Me” ode to the ultimate in self-love.
The book follows the film beat-for-beat, so I think being a fan of the flick, or better yet having seen it again recently, will enhance your enjoyment of the on-stage shenanigans. Ted Tally’s screenplay is subverted to skit humor Saturday Night Live-meets-A Chorus Line style. In the movie, Clarice was Criminal Psychology major, and in Silence! she's mastered “Criminal Psychology and dance … tap, ballet and jazz.” The celluloid Hannibal boasts of eating a victim’s liver “with some fava beans and a nice Chianti,” while his stage counterpart admits, “truth be told, it was an indifferent Beaujolais and spicy couscous.”
The ways in which the helicopter scene, the screaming lamb slaughter, and the moth-mouthed autopsy are reenacted are madcap fun, yet spot-on accurate. There isn't ever a moment in the play in which you might wonder what's going on. It's a pretty intimate, lo-fi production, augmented quite a bit by inventive lighting and some very simple props.
Silence! has actually been around for 10 years, when it debuted online. It was then expanded into a live stage show a few years later and won several awards (NYCFringe’s Best Musical Award, Time Magazine Top ten and a Winner as the Best Musical at the Off Broadway Alliance Awards). But surprisingly, the horror community at large isn't in on this fabulous joke. Let's change that! Tickets to this show are an excellent Halloween treat or Xmas gift (the show runs in L.A. through till the end of 2012).
'SILENCE! The Musical' (90 minutes, no intermission)
Where: Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays- -Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson