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REVIEW: "SILENCE! The Musical" — STAGEStheatre in Fullerton

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Vivaciously Vulgar! Uproariously Funny!

Jaw-Droppingly Outrageous! Offensively Hilarious!

And it’s now playing at STAGEStheatre in Fullerton—a wonderfully funny, exuberantly goofy spoof on the Oscar-winning thriller, “Silence of the Lambs," winner of a disproportionate number of Academy Awards for a movie in which body parts are there for the filleting.

So if you are a devoted fan of the film that made Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter America's favorite serial killer, or Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling the excruciatingly vulnerable "G-Woman" we were all rooting for, you can savor in the revue-style ingenuity of your quick-fix at STAGES. “SILENCE! The Musical,” a singing sendup of that pulpy yet polished 1991 blockbuster, will provide 90 minutes of delightfully ridiculous satire for your amusement without costing you an arm or a leg, so to speak.

Just please don’t bring Grandma.

Think back to that beloved movie, when rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling matched wits with the brilliant but insane cannibal, Dr. Lecter, in an attempt to catch another serial killer known only as Buffalo Bill. Clarice had to face her own demons and race the clock to unlock Lecter's clues before another innocent girl was killed and skinned by Bill. It's still one of the best hair-raising thrillers to date, and has kept countless millions of viewers on the edge of their seats while creating a cult following. It has also permeated the pop lexicon with delightfully creepy quotes like "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti," and the eldritch, "it places the lotion in the basket."

Fueled by a rabid fanbase since the songs debuted online in 2002, “SILENCE!...” was expanded into a live stage show and shattered every box-office record at the 2005 FringeNYC Festival. Winner of the NYC Fringe's Best Musical Award, the show combines whip-smart dialogue and shocking songs to make a musical parody that turns a delicate symphony of suspense on its ear. Serving up a narratively faithful but tonally irreverent retelling of FBI agent Clarice Starling (Kalinda Gray), the plot folds around her quest to nab woman-skinning transsexual psycho Buffalo Bill (Patrick J. Nunez), but of course with the help of human-flesh connoisseur, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Owen Lovejoy).

Winner, also, of the 2012 Off Broadway Alliance Award for Best Musical, “SILENCE! The Musical” is the unauthorized parody of “The Silence of the Lambs,” with book by Hunter Bell, music and lyrics by Jon and Al Kaplan (Web sensations who also musicalized “Predator” and “Conan the Barbarian”), and original direction and choreography by Tony Award winner Christopher Gattelli (who provided the dances for Broadway’s revival of “South Pacific”). After opening to unanimous rave reviews, the show immediately became a sold-out phenomenon and was selected by Time Magazine as one of the year's Top 5 Musicals.

A Movie Moment: In 1990, Jeff Goldblum played an actor in a movie called “The Tall Guy” whose big break was playing the lead in a show inside the film called “Elephant! The Musical.” It was an intentionally dreadful song and dance version of “The Elephant Man,” a retread of the 1980 drama that yes, also starred Anthony Hopkins. It even featured dancing elephants. And, although it’s not known whether “The Tall Guy” was the inspiration for creating “Silence! The Musical," it’s surprising how close the two concepts are in style and humor. Not only does the abbreviated title have an exclamation point, but it even features dancing animals throughout; in this case—lambs.

…Just sayin’.

Admittedly, the prospect of being serenaded by Hannibal Lecter is certainly more appealing than sitting down to dinner with him, at least to the non-cannibals among us. So now, thanks to the Kaplans, we can all bask in the song stylings of one of Hollywood’s most famous mass murderers, although Lecter’s principal aria in this “unauthorized musical parody” of the movie is so vulgar it makes those naughty ditties in "The Book of Mormon" seem like trunk songs dropped from “The Sound of Music.” Inspired by an original line of movie dialogue, one of the songs is a brazen yearning in which Lecter expresses a firm fixation on the genitalia of his F.B.I. interrogator-protégée, Clarice Starling.

As crooned with fine ardor by Mr. Lovejoy, recently seen in“Titanic, The Musical,” his robust voice caressing every expletive, it’s a hilarious takedown of the soaring ballads in bloated musicals of the 1980s. There are some deliriously tasty (sorry) bits sprinkled throughout—and those adorable little lambs gamboling onstage with floppy white furry ears and tap-dancing hoofs during most of the musical numbers offering much choral support.

However, the deadpan comic performance of Kalinda Gray, who plays Clarice, is among the more subversively funny moments in this patchy evening. Ms. Gray certainly does a sporting job of sending up Jodie Foster’s intense performance as Clarice. Her imitation of Ms. Foster’s slight lisp and hickory-smoked voice is spot on, with each “s” sounding like a mouthful of “sh.” And particularly funny are scenes with heavy dialogue, like Clarice’s early interview with a superior who notes approvingly that she majored in “criminal psychology and dance.” Clarice’s solemn response: “Tap, ballet and jazz, shir.” Sporting an intentionally sloppy mud-brown wig, Ms. Gray never lets her solemn mask of anguished dedication slip, even when she’s vamping through one of her somewhat pro-forma mock-Bob Fosse numbers.

Other principal characters include the pompous, incompetent warden of the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Dr. Chilton (Cameron Murray, who also plays an FBI Guy), Barney the prison guard (depicted by Candace M. Clasby, also playing Ardelia, Sapphic roommate of Clarice at the FBI Academy), Agent Crawford (Matt Koutroulis as the FBI Agent-in-Charge of Behavioral Science, as well as Papa Shtarling, Clarise’s father, who only appears in visions), the Senator’s kidnapped daughter Catherine (Jennifer Walquist, who also plays her mother, Senator Martin), twisted Miggs/Pembry (Anthony M. Frias), and, of course, amateur lepidopterist, seamstress, and serial killer/main antagonist Buffalo Bill (played in bawdy transsexual caricature by Patrick J. Nunez).

Starting out with a sequence of Clarice running the FBI training route, her mentor boss, Crawford, informs her she must confront the horrendous, cannibalistic (but incarcerated for the moment)l Hannibal Lecter, tapping his genius for criminal depravity, in hopes of catching the most wanted notorious killer, Buffalo Bill. In the process, Clarice must endure Hannibal's insidious mind games, sprinkled with hints about B-B’s pathology.

Directed by Jack Millis, who rudders the show with zippy, zany dash, the characters never seem frantic or rushed, but definitely effusive and brimming with pluck and spirit. Director Millis paces them and the gags well, letting the daffy energy carry the text. Mr. Lovejoy is irresistible as "Hannibal," recreating Hopkins' other-worldly, effete intonations with impressive accuracy, playing one of the most charismatically repellent villains in musical theatre history. His husky, whispery, proper dialect, combined with Clarice's efforts to read him with appropriate femininity make for exquisitely amusing results.

Another Quick Movie Moment: As mentioned earlier, one of Lector’s most famous lines is when he tells Clarice, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” It’s a deeply disturbing scene in the 1991 picture, and one that’s accentuated by close-ups of Dr. Lecter’s crazy, maniacal eyes and his puckering, sucking lips as if in the act of relishing that moment. But, it turns out, there’s a deeper meaning to this liver/fava beans/Chianti reference, and it’s something only a medical professional might pick up on. Lecter could be treated with drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors. The three things you can’t eat with MAOIs? Liver, beans and wine. As a psychiatrist, Lecter knew this and decided to use his brand of patronizing cat and mouse to make a game of it.

Ms. Clasby's Ardelia creates some serious nuance alongside Clarice with her not-so-subtle girl/girl vibes, and Mr. Frias wields his multiple characters with originality and verve. Agent Crawford, played by Mr. Koutroulis, who first appears in a previous novel by Thomas Harris called "Red Dragon," had called on Lector then to help him find "The Tooth Fairy," another serial killer, a case that resulted in bad blood between Crawford and Lector in "Silence of the Lambs." In "SILENCE! The Musical," Mr. Koutroulis' approval is deliciously deafening in his pasquinade as the wily crimefighter.

Mr. Murray’s very important part as head doctor was a witty riot. And Ms. Walquist’s turn in the well also left us all screaming…and her as well. All this while Mr. Nunez tosses around his own awful wig — a pile of frizzy dirty blond curls — in a suitably ripe performance as the androgynous Buffalo Bill, the flamboyant human-skin-wearing transvestite. Remember, it puts the lotion in the basket or it gets the jazz hands.

The Music Director is Stephen Hulsey, who is on Piano, along with Cheryl Gaul. Percussion and Foley effects are by Sho Fujieda. The Choreographer is Jackie Melbon, and Sets are designed by Jon Gaw; Costumes are by Heather Enriquez. Lighting is by Kalen Cobb, and Lights and Sound operated by Keith Gardner. The show is Stage Managed by Keith Gardner; Publicity is by Patti Cumby (also Producer) and Mo Arii. Photography is by Kirk Schenck.

“SILENCE! The Musical” continues at STAGEStheatre in Fullerton through November 10th where silliness is the name of the game, and there’s a slapdash quality that, were it not so openly embraced, might seem amateurish. Instead, the buffoonery seems almost artful. It’s about as funny, kitschy and irreverent as The Book of Mormon. The biggest difference is…you can afford the tickets! Speaking of which, here’s how to get yours:

Chris Daniels

Arts Reviewer

The Show Report



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