SILENCE! THE FRANCHISE
Silence! The Musical was one of the big hits of the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival. The parody of Jonathan Demme’s 1991 Oscar-winning horror thriller Silence of the Lambs found a home Off-Broadway last year, created enough buzz for a long run, and is still packing ‘em in. Now, the Los Angeles franchise comes to the Hayworth Theatre this week; the production, regretfully, does not live up to the hype.
The challenge with a spoof is trusting in the strength of brevity. Silence! The Musical starts cleverly enough with both a charming chorus of sheep and a spot-on imitation of Jodi Foster by Christine Lakin, accented deftly with slurred S’s and a West Virginia drawl. But the production goes nowhere fast. Puns, comic shtick, sight gags, meta-theatrical tricks, big wigs, goofy costumes, naughty production numbers, and predictable silliness rule this production and wear down the audience’s enthusiasm by pitching the comedy to the lowest common denominator. Halfway through the 90-minute show, the audience seems to have had enough. In this case, less show would have definitely been more entertaining.
That is not to say the show is without its merits. One very inspired bit of comic writing in Hunter Bell’s eager-to-please libretto is a running gag about Hannibal Lecter’s artwork. Instead of being a reflection of his genius, the art looks like it was done by a first-grader. The gag is brilliant in both its originality and element of surprise, extended to a welcome and well-earned comic callback. If only the rest of the show’s comedy had played along these lines. Instead we are given the theatrical version of Mad Magazine, the kind of uninspired sophomoric parody you’d see in a second-rate Saturday Night Live sketch.
The good news is that Silence! The Musical’s ensemble is uniformly strong. While Christine Larkin delivers a fiercely funny imitation of Jodi Foster’s mannered Clarice Starling, Davis Gaines makes the more satisfying choice of developing an authentic Hannibal Lecter characterization, which suggests Anthony Hopkins’ iconic Oscar-winning turn rather than aping it. Davis sings the less than memorable Jon and Al Kaplan score with his usual rich vocal styling and full commitment. Also a standout is Jeff Hiller from the original New York cast; Hiller brings a light comic touch to some very choice bits, including a moment where he wheels out Dr. Lecter on a dolly; it is almost Keatonesque in its simplicity.
Tony-winner Christopher Gattelli adds to the plus column by guiding excellent dancers Karl Warden and Melissa Sandvig in a scandalous pas de deux as Gaines’ Lecter belts out lyrics that strafe with C-bombs (which the creators obviously believe is – if you’ll pardon the spoonerism – one cunning stunt). However, cast members are allowed to inexplicably break character and crack each other up a la The Carol Burnett Show; these bits of comedy improvisation feel planned, and the ensemble doesn’t always let the audience in on the joke; if the audience is left out of the comic loop, then who exactly is being entertained?
Fluidly staged and cleverly choreographed by Gattelli, Scott Pask’s simple set pieces come and go with enough grace to move things along without drawing attention to them. The staging is extremely skillful even though there is no real sense of a director’s concept at work. Hunter Bell’s book starts out humorously enough, but soon loses stream. The Kaplan & Kaplan songs are cheerfully pastiche if completely forgettable, relying heavily on some clever lyrics – pocked with imperfect rhymes – to distract from the generic melodies. There’s no hiding the fact that the score lacks authentic composition.
What is never clear is the need to satire Silence of the Lambs at this point in the 21st century. This is entertainment for the sake of entertainment. If only it were more consistently entertaining.
At its heart Silence! The Musical unapologetically remains a fringe show. Like many fringe satires, the parody is not able to sustain itself for a full-length production. Those naughty F-bombs are dropped with such frequency that any shock value – like the show itself – is a case of diminishing returns.
photos by Michael Lamont
Silence! The Musical
Hayworth Theatre name in Los Angeles (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to close on Oct. 7, 2012 EXTENDED through December 9, 2012
for tickets, visit Ovation Tix