Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Hunter Bell's book pretty much follows the major plot points in Ted Tally's Oscar winning screenplay (which was based on the novel by Thomas Harris) beat by beat. FBI trainee Clarice Starling is assigned to interview Hannibal Lecter, a serial killer with cannibalistic traits, in order to get information that may help Starling and her FBI teammates find Buffalo Bill, another serial killer who has killed several women and recently kidnapped the daughter of a U.S. Senator. Lecter offers a "quid pro quo" deal with Clarice wherein he will give her information to help her search for Bill as long as she shares information about her past with him. This strange relationship the two form sets in motion an interesting and intriguing race against time as Clarice attempts to find Bill before he kills Catherine, the senator's daughter.
The musical score by Jon and Al Kaplan is crude, lewd, and entirely forgettable, except for the recurring title song and a number for Hannibal that, like so many other songs in the score, takes a key line of dialogue from the film and turns it into a splashy song and dance tune. So, we get three songs taken directly from lines that Buffalo Bill says in the film and others based on throwaway lines from supporting characters. None of them have much impact, as taking a famous line from the screenplay as the basis for a song only works if you have good lyrics to put around it and good music underneath. The Kaplan brothers aren't very good as composers or lyricists, unfortunately, and simply repeating a famous line of dialogue over and over again doesn't quite work, though it will most likely mean that musicalized line of dialogue will be stuck in your head for a day or two after seeing the show. Don't be surprised if you find yourself humming and singing to yourself the ditty "If I Could Smell Her Cunt" (which is the best song in the score) at the grocery store the day after you see Silence!.
While the score is a throwaway and the book may be somewhat confusing if you aren't familiar with the film, the enthusiastic Stray Cat cast, under Louis Farber's fairly inspired direction, throw themselves into their roles, which helps bring plenty of hijinks, tomfoolery, and a big dose of malarkey to the production. As Clarice, Brandi Bigley has the accent, determination, and fierce dedication that Jodie Foster brought to her Oscar-winning film portrayal down to a T. Scott Schmelder is superb as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and incorporates the same speech pattern and accent that Anthony Hopkins used for his Academy Award winning performance. Both have wonderful singing voices and Schmelder adds a nice amount of creepiness and unease to Lecter.
With a bravura performance that borders on sheer insanity, David Chorley is a comic gem as Buffalo Bill. As the senator, Cassie Chilton's performance of "My Daughter Is Catherine," in which she repeats her daughter's name over and over again, is a huge crowd favorite, and Vinny Chavez, Hector Coris, Ayanna Le Andre and Devon Mahon round out the supporting cast with each of them getting a character or two to show off their comic chops. They also all make an incredibly cute chorus of Lambs. Ballet dancers Priscilla Campa and Nicholas McEntire add a moment of comic delight as the dream ballet Clarice and Hannibal.
Director Farber manages to get good comic performances from the cast and keeps the show moving along at a fairly fast clip, though there are a few scene changes that are stretched out and threaten to slow down the pace while the small cast make offstage costume changes. Musical director Alicia Ferrin does well with the small band and choreographer Nicole Olson adds several hilarious steps, including sheep-inspired movement for the ensemble and a fun tango for Clarice and Hannibal for "Quid Pro Quo." Aaron Sheckler's static two-story set incorporates several small set pieces and great photo projections and media design from Dallas Robert Nichols (who also supplied the spooky and effective lighting design) to quickly establish the many locales in the show.
Silence! The Musical may not be the greatest musical, or musical parody, ever written, but fans of the film will most likely find much to laugh at and enjoy. Plus, the Stray Cat cast add plenty of inspired insanity to the mix. For anyone who hasn't seen the film I'd suggest watching it first in order to be able to appreciate some of the show's more inspired moments.
Silence! The Musical, through May 19, 2018, by Stray Cat Theatre, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be ordered by calling 480 227-1766 or at straycattheatre.org.
Book by Hunter Bell