Los Angeles Theater Review: SILENCE! THE MUSICAL (Bucket List Theatre at The Actors Company)

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by Samuel Garza Bernstein on October 12, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles

HANNIBAL THE CANNIBAL WANTS
A WHIFF OF SOMETHING SPECIAL

I didn’t know what to expect when I made plans to see Bucket List Theatre’s production of Silence! The Musical, a parody of the multiple Oscar-winning film The Silence of the Lambs, now at the Actors Company in Hollywood. Would it be gross-out humor, a too-long skit in the manner of SNL, or a “serious” work (by which I mean, a show with the form and structure to support 90 minutes of dialogue and songs). Happily, it is the latter. Things get agreeably silly, disgusting, pun-filled, and bawdy, but there is definitely enough narrative momentum in Hunter Bell’s book to hold our interest while the jokes and songs fly by.

The elements of the film are here. Hannibal the Cannibal is in maximum security when FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling comes for a visit. She is there to pump him for intel on serial killer Buffalo Bill. Bill is a homicidal trans whack-job who abducts heavy girls, fattens them up, and skins them. He is making a suit of their skin. Presumably once he wears it he will magically become a “real girl.”

The fact that Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Jonathan Demme, and the producers all won Oscars surprised me at the time. It was clearly the grossest movie ever to sweep the awards. But it was certainly a great piece of work — and ripe for parody. Who doesn’t remember Hopkins making those creepy sucking noises and testing Clarice’s limits with, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” Even if you have never seen the movie, that line will strike a familiar chord. It’s part of American culture, right up there with “Remember the Alamo,” “Read my lips, no new taxes,” “Have a Coke and a smile,” and “Do you mind if I cut in front of you, I only have this one thing?”

Silence! hits its targets from all angles — sometimes quite broadly, other times with unexpected subtlety. Fair warning though, the big operatic moment returned to again and again, is Hannibal Lecter’s desperate aria, “If I Could Smell Her Cunt.” Jesse Merlin, as Lecter, caresses every word with the desperate seriousness of Jean Valjean or the Phantom. There’s a lamb chorus line, each wearing little white fur ears and cloppy hoofs; the prison-behind-glass scenes are deftly worked out; and the scenes where the abductee Catherine is trapped in a well and is being overfed by Buffalo Bill are funny and effective.

Director, choreographer, production designer (and starring as Clarice) Amanda Conlon does a great job, milking every joke for all its worth, and staging the movement and scene changes with dead-on timing. Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan’s score is up to the job, with some nice touches sending up other musicals and musical theater genres.

As Clarice, Ms. Conlon is a riot. She underplays everything, getting the biggest laughs with a strained expression or a small tug at her cheap wig. Mr. Merlin is a comic delight with a great set of pipes. Nick Dothée is effective as Buffalo Bill, as is Julie Ouelette as Catherine. Both play with broad humor that balances well with Conlon and Merlin.

Three things stayed with me, making me giggle even as I write this: There’s a short dream ballet with dancers Suzanne Slade and Tyler Marcum as Clarice and Hannibal that is absolutely inspired; Courtney Bruce does a fantastic take on the kind of superfluous yet obligatory soul number Broadway musicals often sandwich in, complete with stop-the-show vocal riffs; and in place of Buffalo Bill’s night vision goggles, Mr. Dothée wears what I believe is an old-school Viewmaster. Hysterical.

photos courtesy of Bucket List Theatre

Silence! The Musical
Bucket List Theatre
Let Live Theatre (at The Actors Company)
916 N. Formosa Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8
ends on November 3, 2018
for tickets ($35), visit Bucket List

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