Of the many attempts to chase the legacy of the 1982 benchmark in horror/comedy of the musical variety that is Little Shop of Horrors, Silence! makes a fair play to place. Brandishing a well-equipped arsenal of deadpan, vulgarity, camp, and a wide array of theatrical references, this musical parody of Silence of the Lambs makes killing look easy.
While it is doubtful that any score in this unlikely sub-genre will ever live up to the catchy, simplistic brilliance of Alan Menken (before he whored himself out to Disney), Silence! picks up a ball that was dropped Off-Broadway years ago and has been shamelessly fumbled ever since. In short, it's now safe to go see a musical mock-up of a horror film classic again.
This cast delivers many standout performances. Jenn Harris deconstructs Jodie Foster, offering up a few of the actor's personal ticks in a straight-faced lampoon of Clarice Starling. Harris sets her rapid-fire pace from her jogging entrance, never acknowledging any of her character's unintentional comic moments, while mining Foster's unique way of speaking as a running joke that doesn't get old. David Garrison does a dead-on Hannibal Lecter, finding the humor inherent in this ominous character once seen in a different slant. Singing the score's most unforgettable song, Garrison pines for the opportunity to smell Starling's lady parts in playful perversion of one of the film's most memorable bits of dialogue. Annie Funke presents some show-stealing moments as both Senator Martin and her abducted daughter; Stephen Bienskie skins all the humps off Buffalo Bill, hitting all the key moments of the character with well-placed comic accents; and Topher Nuccio makes his humorous presence known through a series of pop-on parts and cameos.
Director Christopher Gattelli displays a clear vision as well as a firm understanding of this type of theater and what needs to happen for it to work. Camp cannot be overly conscious of itself, and Gattelli strikes the right balance with his actors, allowing the audience to discover the humor themselves without assaulting them with clever condescension and obnoxiously knowing winks. Hunter Bell's book lays a solid foundation, tweaking the original source material just enough without disturbing its recognizable structural integrity. People having seen the movie only once will likely feel in on the jokes, and for the benefit of the avid musical theater geek there are ample insider references, including nods to Bob Fosse, Dreamgirls, and A Chorus Line, among others. The score of Jon & Al Kaplan features some catchy tunes and expands on some interesting moments from the film, making fun of musicals using their own traditional structure. Scott Pask's simple set design works wonders, functioning with an ease that keeps the comedy coming and even manages a little theater magic with a couple surprise reveals of Bill during the final chase.
Fans of Silence of the Lambs and/or musical parody missing Silence! would be doing themselves a disservice. The piece is unique, quirky, and clever enough to develop a cult following, if it hasn't done so already. It's certainly a new musical in old film's clothing that's worthy of sticking around for a while. - C. Jefferson Thom
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.