‘Silence! The Musical’
Through Aug. 9
1501 14th St., N.W.
When you think “The Silence of the Lambs,” you don’t think musical. But that’s exactly what makes “Silence! The Musical,” the song-filled spoof on the 1991 thriller flick, so much fun.
Framed as bad musical theater presented by the Quantico Community Players, “Silence!” with its chorus of tap-dancing lambs and vulgar ditties, aims to be a tacky, sometimes groan-inducing laugh fest, and as such works beautifully. Of course this can’t be achieved without savvy staging and totally committed performances, and fortunately Studio 2ndStage’s production has found these necessities in talented local director Alan Paul and a topnotch cast.
The plot remains the same. FBI agent trainee Clarice Starling (Laura Jordan) is hunting down serial killer Buffalo Bill (Tom Story) before he kills again. For insight, Clarice seeks the consul of brilliant but incarcerated psychiatrist and serial cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Tally Sessions). But in exchange for his assistance, Lecter insists Clarice play by his rules. Based on the bestselling book and popular film that garnered Oscars for Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins as Clarice and Lecter, the source material lends itself pretty easily to camp and the show’s librettist Hunter Bell and composers Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan make the most of it. There isn’t a lot of high-minded art here — it’s just making fun of a cult film and its foremost target is the movie’s biggest fans.
The Kaplan brothers’ score consists of songs inspired by moments in the film that quickly click with those who’ve seen it even once or twice. There’s Buffalo Bill’s “Are you about a size 14?” And the seduction line that oily Dr. Chiltern (Alan Naylor) tries on Clarice: “Baltimore can be quite a fun town if you have the right guide.” Lecter’s songs include an unprintably titled ode to a part of Clarice’s anatomy.
The source material is more easily parodied than I’d remembered and at the center of the madness bravely stands Laura Jordan’s Clarice who speaks with a slurry drawl and plays it straight in a bad pantsuit and unfortunate wig. Tally Sessions plays Hannibal “I’m-having-my-friend-for-lunch” Lecter more as a Broadway leading man and it works. Out actor Tom Story brings great humor to blonde-tressed Buffalo Bill, a possibly transgender serial killer who murders full-figured females in order to wear their skins as his own “woman suit.” (Over the years, the film’s director Jonathan Demme has responded to accusations aspects of the movie being homophobic and/or transphobic by saying the Buffalo Bill isn’t meant to be gay or transgender, just insane, traumatized and self-loathing.)
Awa Sal Secka plays Ardelia, Clarice’s FBI academy roommate. Here she’s not so subtly attracted to Clarice and also pining for more time in the spotlight which she gets in a sensational solo turn. Hayley Travers does double duty as Buffalo Bill’s big-haired victim Catherine and her doltish mother Sen. Martin.
The remainder of the terrific cast includes John Loughney, Neil Rushnock and the excellent Wood Van Meter, who recently played the conflicted young Mormon in “The Whale” at Rep Stage.
While the actors may playfully feign amateurishness, the tight band led by musical director Christopher Youstra does not. Jason Sherwood’s set is successfully simple: a frame suggests Lecter’s cell. Jessica Beth Redish’s choreography pays corny homage’s to some of Broadway’s greats, most notably with a Bob Fosse-inspired number.
“Silence!” premiered at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival where it won the Outstanding Musical Award, and later enjoyed several successful years off-Broadway. It makes a nice fit for 2ndStage, Studio’s place for eclectic programming with shorter rehearsal periods and smaller budgets than their other productions.
And most effectively, 2ndStage has transformed Studio’s black box space Stage 4 into a club venue with a red-curtained stage, cabaret seating and a long bar off to the side with speciality drinks.