When a flock of musical theater triple-threats adorned with sheep’s ears and hooves blend light-operatic voices to sing out “This is the story of Clarice,” only to be joined by a pantsuit-clad jogger looking like none other than a young Jodie Foster in FBI trainee mode, there’s only one place you could possibly be, whether in New York or L.A., and that’s at SILENCE! The Musical, the “unauthorized parody of Silence Of The Lambs” whose continuing Off-Broadway run has proved so successful that a sister production has now opened in Los Angeles to audience laughter and cheers.

 Troubies treasure Christine Lakin stars as Clarice Starling, assigned by her FBI Academy boss Jack Crawford (Bradley Kaye) to interview incarcerated-for-life serial killer Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Davis Gaines) in hopes of ascertaining the identity of the killing machine known only as “Buffalo Bill,” whom we in the audience soon learn is male-to-female sex-change hopeful Jamie Gumb (Stephen Bienskie).

Just as Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning film did two decades ago, SILENCE! The Musical has its heroine and villain engaging in a dangerous game of quid pro quo, one which sends Clarice back to horrific childhood memories of lambs being sent screaming to the slaughter. Meanwhile in another part of the country, nutcase Gumb is busy starving his latest victim, Catherine Martin (Kathy Deitch), a plus-size beauty he is holding captive at the bottom of a well, the better to remove her skin and fashion a new identity for him/herself.

As brought to Academy Award-winning life by Foster and Anthony Hopkins under the Oscar-winning direction of Jonathan Demme, The Silence Of The Lambs turned out to be one of the scariest Best Picture winners ever.

 As brought to musical comedy life by songwriters Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan, book writer Hunter Bell, and director/choreographer Christopher Gattelli, SILENCE! The Musical may not win an equal number of Ovations, but one thing is certain. For theater buffs who don’t mind a whole lot of raunch in their musicals, SILENCE! The Musical guarantees more laughs than just about any other song-and-dance show in town.

Bell’s book mines Ted Tally’s Oscar-winning screenplay for plenty of humor Saturday Night Live-style. For example, unlike the movie’s Clarice, a mere Criminal Psychology major, in SILENCE! The Musical our plucky heroine has majored in “criminal psychology and dance … tap, ballet and jazz.” And while the film’s Hannibal boasted of once having eaten a victim’s liver “with some fava beans and a nice Chianti,” his musical counterpart reveals that “truth be told, it was an indifferent ’31 Beaujolais and a fluffy rice pilaf.”

Though the Kaplans’ songs are perhaps SILENCE! The Musical’s weakest link, melodically if not lyrically, the songwriting duo has at the very least come up with a bunch of inspired titles that any Silence Of The Lambs fan will recognize in an instant, gems like “Are You About A Size 14,” “Quid Pro Quo,” and “I’d Fuck Me.” “My Daughter Is Catherine (Catherine’s Her Name)” has Senator Ruth Martin (Deitch again) attempting to humanize Buffalo Bill’s latest victim by repeating her name again and again … and again and again and again. Rauchiest of all is “If I Could Smell Your Cunt,” sung by Gaines at his Phantom Of The Opera most resonant and accompanied in venerable Oklahoma! fashion by Dream Clarice (Melissa Sandvig) and Dream Hannibal (Karl Warden), whose graceful pas de deux directs attention squarely (or should that be triangularly) on the body part in question.

 Director Gattelli gives us sight gags galore, and none funnier than when prisoner Multiple Miggs cums Silly String in Clarice’s hair. As choreographer, the recent Tony winner for Newsies parodies Bob Fosse, Agnes de Mille, and Michael Bennett (to name just three legends) with ample panache.

 It’s hard to imagine the still-running New York production cast any better than its L.A. counterpart, and in fact Bienskie and Jeff Hiller as Sgt. Pembry are repeating the roles they originated off-Broadway. The always impressive Lakin is so dead-on as Jodie Foster as Clarice that she has the audience laughing from the moment she jogs onstage all the way through to that famous final phone call from Lecter, which in SILENCE! The Musical inspires the straight-faced declaration, “He won’t come after me. He’s waiting for the sequel.” Gaines too is as close a dead-ringer to Hopkins as an audience could wish for, combining the operatic pipes and comedic chops of his most recent L.A. appearances in Man Of La Mancha and Spamalot. Bienskie’s Buffalo Bill (and yes, he does recreated that movie moment in the musical), Dietch’s Catherine and Ruth, Hiller’s Sgt. Pembry, Kaye’s Jack Crawford, LaToya London’s Ardelia Mapp, and Jeff Skowron’s Dr. Chilton are deliciously outrageous characterizations each and every one, with dance whizzes Sandvig and Warden combining grace and tongue-in-cheek lewdness in equal measure.

 An expert David Manning conducts and plays keyboards for SILENCE! The Musical’s live band, which also includes Alby Potts on keyboards and Terry Schonig on percussion. Nate Patten is the production’s talented music director.

Costume designer David Kaley’s inventive creations, Jeff Croiter’s terrific lighting, and Carl Casella’s first-rate sound design all score high marks, as do Richard H. DiBella’s video design and Byron Batista’s wigs. Ritchard Druther is production stage manager.

As for the four-sliding-panel set design based on Scott Pask’s original, though it is used in imaginative ways, it underscores SILENCE! The Musical’s sole drawback—ticket prices steeper than what you’d pay to see a considerably higher-end, big-stage musical at say Musical Theater West or 3-D Theatricals.

Be that as it may, with so much talent onstage at L.A.’s historic Hayworth Theater, audiences are guaranteed ninety minutes of laughs on the musical wild side. The lambs may well be silent when SILENCE! The Musical draws to a close, but the opposite is likely to be the case for cheering fans of this wacky, raunchy musical comedy feast.

The Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
September 30, 2012
Photos: Michael Lamont

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