On Stage: Silence is Golden

by Chuck Conconi

Studio Theatre’s ‘Silence! The Musical’ is an often outrageous parody, but an expected success. 

Tally Sessions as Hannibal Lecter, Laura Jordan as Clarice, and the ensemble of Studio 2ndStage's 'Silence! The Musical.' (Photo by Igor Dmitry)

Tally Sessions as Hannibal Lecter, Laura Jordan as Clarice, and the ensemble of Studio 2ndStage’s ‘Silence! The Musical.’ (Photo by Igor Dmitry)

If there ever was a movie that deserved to be parodied, it was the 1991 Academy Award-winning “Silence of the Lambs.” It was a dark horror story, brilliantly directed by Jonathan Demme, of the Thomas Harris pulp fiction, bestselling novel.

It is necessary to have seen the movie to appreciate “Silence! The Musical,” and unforgiving, often vulgar and tasteless satire of the movie about a female FBI student learning how to track down serial killers who is sent to seek help from an imprisoned brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer.

The FBI assigns the young student, Clarice, because Lecter is more likely to respond to her in assisting the FBI in catching a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill, who she eventually learns is murdering overweight women so he can remove their skins in fashioning a woman’s suit for himself.

Serial killers are strange, but “Silence of the Lambs” did have the kind of convoluted plot with murderous characters that requires a complete suspension of disbelief. “Silence! The Musical,” playing at Studio Theatre’s 2nd Stage, is a satire based on the film, and is the creation of Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan, who both also wrote the music and lyrics.

“Silence! The Musical” is a playful 90-minute production with 17 songs. A couple of the songs beat the shock value of taboo sexual vulgarities past the point of humor. The comedy at times is juvenile, but there are smart, funny moments too. Two of the numbers such as “If I Could Smell Her (vulgar word)” and Buffalo Bill singing, “Would You (….) Me?” repeat the phrases beyond being amusing.

What is consistent is that the director Alan Paul has assembled a talented cast with superb voices, supported by the smart choreography of Jessica Beth Redish, with some parody of Bob Fosse moves. The dancers, outfitted by costume designer Frank Labovitz, cavort about in floppy ears and lamb makeup in carefully designed dance routines.

The 10-character cast moves the action in a breathless pace, highlighted by Laura Jordan’s lisping, naïve Clarice, confronting Tally Sessions, a manipulative, but less creepy Hannibal Lecter. Tom Story is over-the-top crazy as the murderous Buffalo Bill, who thinks he wants to be a woman.

Studio Theatre has once again configured the 2nd Stage as a café setting created by set designer Jason Sherwood, with a bar where drinks are sold and the audience is seated at small round tables throughout the room. There are small lamps on each table and a plate of salty tidbits. Studio used the same idea in the recent production of “Murder Ballad,” a rock musical where the bar paid off fairly well and where, like in this production, the audience is encouraged to stay after the performance.

David Muse, Studio’s artistic director, understands the necessity of attracting younger audiences to his theatre, drawing on the youthful demographics of the 14th Street stretch of trendy restaurants, condominiums and apartments. “Murder Ballad” was a success and the same can be expected from the often outrageous parody, “Silence! The Musical.”

“Silence! The Musical” continues through August 9 at Studio Theatre’s 2ndStage, 1501 14th Street NW. Tickets are $20-$55 and available at 202-332-3300 or online here

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