Saturday, February 4, 2017

"Silence! The Musical"

Silence! The Musical
Jon Kaplan & Al Kaplan (Music & Lyrics); Hunter Bell (Book)
In association with Lang Entertainment Group & Ray ofLight Theatre

With cute, floppy ears and paws of wool, a flock of lambs sings and dances with harmonized voices and clever steps as they warn:
Homicidal freaks!
Lunatics behind steel bars,
Women missing skins!
Decapitated heads in jars,
This is the silence of the lambs.
You may have nightmares when you’re through.

Anne Norland, Scott Hayes & the Lambs
Hunter Bell’s book of Silence! The Musical does faithfully follow the general story of the grim, psychodrama of the 1991 movie, Silence of the Lambs, that sends chills down spines and causes gurgles in nauseated stomachs.  However, his collaboration with Jon and Al Kaplan (music and lyrics) to produce the 2005 award-winning musical is less a thriller and more a riotous romp full of ridiculous raunch.  In virtually every spoken line, dance step, and musical note, parody pours forth unadulterated in this first-class production by Cloud 9 Theatricals in association with Lang Entertainments group and Ray of Light Theatre, the local company much venerated for their musical satires of cult-adored movies.  XXX-rated in ways guaranteed to draw riotous laughter while also being totally non-PC, the combination of psychiatrist (and cannibal) Dr. Hannibal Lecter and a slew of quirky characters makes Silence! The Musical exactly the right prescription in the nick of time for San Francisco audiences who are slipping into depression over the craziness of current, national politics.

Anne Norland & the Lambs
Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee with a lisp and a driving desire to make her dead dad proud, gets a chance to prove her stuff and to interview a serial killer who has a gnawing crave for his victim’s insides.  With her open mouth crazily cocked upward into the side of her face, Anne Norland sings while slurring every ‘s’ in triumphant voice, “Thish Ish It!”  At the same time, she is warned in “The Right Guide” by a lecherous, pompous (and a bit prissy) Dr. Chilton (Brendon North) and a high-stepping kick line of lambs, “So listen up, there’s just a few procedure rules to follow: If you get too close, he’ll grab your face and bite and chew and swallow!” 

Scott Hayes
Clarice has been sent to dig out of insanely brilliant Dr. Hannibal Lecter what insights and knowledge he might have about a current serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.  Scott Hayes as Lecter looks strikingly similar to his famous movie predecessor, Anthony Hopkins, and has the same sophisticated yet sinister edge in his vocals -- spoken and sung.  Upon seeing Clarice and then aided by lambs and her in a parody dance number right out of the lavish 1930s movies, he drools and dreams of what he would like to do with her (“If I Could Smell Her C*nt”) while also admitting she might be the friend he needs.  In a later visit, he begins to negotiate in “Quid Pro Quo” what he will tell her in return for juicy tidbits she will share with him about her past – all the while the two dance a delicious tango with his still being behind a wall of protective glass.

Throughout, the choreography of Alex Rodriguez reigns supreme with much shtick and also love-filled lampoon of past Broadway musicals built into every number.  One of the secrets Clarice spills to Lecter is an ongoing nightmare she has about the slaughter of lambs she witnessed as a child.  It is those lambs that appear and dance with incredible precision and pizzazz throughout the production (with most also ably doubling in other roles, often with their discarded ears teasingly peeking out of back pockets). 

Supporting Clarice in her hunt for Buffalo Bill is her FBI boss, Jack Crawford, (Matt Hammons) who darts about in that role and that of a lamb.  He also appears in her dreams as her deceased dad to give her encouragement in the same West Virginia lisp that she evidently inherited from him (“Papa Shtarling”).  Also aiding her in her search is a fellow trainee, Ardella (Angel Adedokun), who performs in her sterling, sultry mezzo-soprano a knock-em-dead number (“Catherine Dies Today”) with dancing lambs-turned-reporters all around her as she transforms momentarily in her own fantasy from dorky agent to a dazzling, sexy nightclub singer.

Brian Watson & the Lambs
The object of the big hunt is Buffalo Bill, a wanna-be transsexual (denied the surgical switch due to his disturbed mental state) who seeks out over-sized women to murder and use their skin for his drag dresses.  As gruesome as this sounds, Brian Watson is nothing but weirdly funny in his moppy curls and Viewfinder goggles (used for night vision to prowl on his victims).  He brings one of the night’s best voices in numbers sadistically stranger by the sung measure.  In “Are You About a Size 14?” he lures his latest naïve victim using a fake arm sling to gain attention and sympathy – all the time inquiring her dress size to be sure that she is “a woman who will look good on me.”

Brian Watson & Hayley Lovgren
As another lamb in rotation, Hayley Lovgren is hilariously perfect in the role of Bill’s kidnapped victim, Catherine -- curly and blonde and appropriately “big boned” and buxom.  Holed up in a brick well in Bill’s basement (but one she hilariously is able to move around when dancing), she and her captor perform a near showstopper in “Put the F*cking Lotion in the Basket” as he urges her to use some lotion to soften her skin for easier cutting later.  (Please believe all these gory, grisly details are actually guffaw-gushers in the context of the musical itself.)  Even more funny, Ms. Lovgren also doubles as her own mother, Tennessee senator Ruth Martin, as she sings to Buffalo Bill in near operatic proportions a tear-embedded TV appeal, “My Daughter is Catherine,” where the repeated name of “Catherine, Catherine, Catherine” becomes ever-more fodder for fun.

Kuo-Hau Lo once again proves his mastery in scenic design with a series of moving walls and barred cage fronts that themselves become integral members of many of the dance numbers and add to the tongue-in-cheek humor of the production as characters dash in, out, and around the moving masses.  Michael Ramsaur’s lighting design enables eeriness when needed, nightclub snazziness when imagined, and parody-filled caricature all along the way.  From lambs to G-Men to inmates, Connie Strayer’s costumes bring chuckles with touches big and small.  Aid comes from Devon Labelle’s prop design, ensuring that at some point there will be the required moth flying about and landing on the nose of cross-eyed Clarice.  Finally, music direction by Ben Prince of the small but effective band is note-worthy of mention, including what he and director Jason Hoover are able to accomplish in ensuring the musical numbers never become so overdone and overwrought in their pastiche to lose some semblance of fine singing and instrumentation.

Silence! The Musical is certainly not for everyone but is definitely for any one willing to go with the flow of four-letter words not usually spoken in polite company as well as subjects mostly found in slasher movies.  For these people (certainly including most of San Francisco), this collaborative production between Cloud 9, Lang Entertainment, and Ray of Light Theatre is an absolute must-see!

Rating: 5 E

Silence! The Musical continues in extended run through March 18, 2017 at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco, through October 17, 2015.  Tickets are available online at,, or

Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

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