As ’90s kids, we might not remember watching The Silence of the Lambs when it first premiered.
The 1991 flick puts movie viewers in the uncomfortable situation of watching traumatized FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by a younger Jodi Foster, being psychologically probed by the creepy Hannibal Lecter, rendered by Anthony Hopkins. Viewers will remember Lecter’s unabashed cannibalism and Starling’s recurring mental trauma.
Sounds like a pretty serious story, but even parts of the original production could draw a chuckle or two. Lecter’s over-the-top penchant for human flesh gets kind of funny at times and Starling’s vulnerability eventually seems ridiculous.
Jon and Al Kaplan took all of this into consideration when making their web series Silence! Silence of the Lambs the Musical, which went viral in 2002. In the hands of writer Hunter Bell and director and choreographer Christopher Gattelli, the series becomes a riotously funny stage production.
You don’t need to memorize the plot of The Silence of the Lambs to enjoy Silence! The Musical — one of the production’s many strengths. Anyone with a raunchy sense of humor would laugh out loud at the musical’s shamelessly dirty songs. An entire number is dedicated to a seedy insult that one of Lecter’s fellow inmates throws at Starling. During the crude song, an en pointe ballet dancer gracefully adds a physical rendition of the hilarious but vulgar lyrics. There was hardly a move the dancer delivered that did not result in laughter from the crowd.
Lecter and Starling come to life as humorous renditions of otherwise serious characters through a few clever decisions. Christine Lakin perfectly captures Jodi Foster’s distinctive word pronunciation — each “s” sounding like a mouthful of “sh.” It’s a distinct Foster manner of speaking and Lakin carries it successfully throughout the musical. The musical continues to poke fun at Foster when Starling finds herself in the dark pointing at random corners; at one point a poster of Foster’s directorial flop, The Beaver, makes her scream. As Lecter, Davis Gaines holds onto to the cannibal’s creepiness while using his resounding voice to deliver the funniest of numbers.
The show’s hilarity extends to its secondary characters. Stephen Bienskie as Buffalo Bill aka Jame Gumb keeps us laughing. Bienskie takes the serial killer and makes him both pathetic and creepy with his song “Are You About a Size 14?”, which focuses on his fixation with overweight women. Yet the character does not achieve the success of Lecter and Starling; at times it is difficult to hear Bienskie’s voice, especially over the chorus. His numbers draw chuckles, but the lyrics oftentimes get lost among other noises. Whether a directorial or acting fault, the discrepancy takes away from his character’s best moments.
Yet the musical cleverly pays attention to the small details. In one scene, Jeff Skowron — in the role of Dr. Chilton — carries away a staircase prop with the words, “I have to do this part myself.” The lambs show their own hilarious facial expressions, and even the no-name guards create a lot of laughter with their silly conversations. LaToya London plays a female FBI agent who eventually sings about her motivations during “Catherine Dies Today.” The agent also gets quite close with Starling, giving the musical a subplot that definitely did not come through in the movie.
By the end of the musical, nudity, raunchy humor, gay jokes, cannibalism jokes and everything in between have come together to create two hours of virtually non-stop humor. The strength of the musical lies in the fact that it does not deviate completely from the movie. Instead, Silence! creates a plot that feeds off the more ridiculous personalities and plot twists of the flick. With a talented, flexible cast and smart directorial choices Silence! proves an engaging, well-thought unauthorized parody.
The Silence of the Lambs might be more than 10 years old, but the musical’s modern humor will hook you and make two hours feel like a much shorter time span filled with undeniable fun.
Silence! The Musical shows Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m at the Hayworth Theatre, located at 2511 Wilshire Blvd.
For more information, visit www.SilenceTheMusical.com.