With the Vancouver Fringe Festival mere weeks away, local audiences would be well served to think of the production of Silence! The Musical, currently playing at the BMO Theatre Centre, as an amuse-bouche.
For while there is a lot to like about this bawdy musical, there is an inherent scrappiness to it that makes it easy to see why this parody of the 1991 Academy Award-Winning film The Silence of the Lambs became a hit at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival. It is perhaps ironic as well to know this local production was scooped of its Canadian premiere by a production at the just completed Winnipeg Fringe Festival.
Following the story of its source material with an eerie accuracy, to really appreciate many of the jokes in Silence! The Musical requires at least a basic understanding of the film’s plot. That isn’t to say those who don’t have an intimate knowledge of the movie starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins will be left behind, but there is little doubt those armed with a greater knowledge will appreciate it even more. Even a quick review of the film’s synopsis before heading into the theatre will help.
For those who can’t be bothered though, there is another access point to Silence! The Musical, with a send-up of the musical theatre genre itself. Think of it as a parody-within-a-parody, where bowler hat wearing lambs meet Bob Fosse and A Chorus Line. In fact, some of the funniest sequences come from overlaying the show’s ridiculously ribald songs atop Ken Overbey’s choreography, including numbers inspired by the musical Chicago, and a twisted fan dance straight out of the Ziegfeld Follies.
But while words like bawdy and ribald are liberally used to describe Silence! The Musical, coupled with stark lobby warnings of nudity, profanity, and violence, it is all surprisingly tame. Sure, some of the show’s song titles will undoubtedly make even the most liberal of theatre-goer squirm, but in this era of HBO and explicit lyric warnings on music albums, it isn’t quite as shocking as producers might want you to believe.
There is a bigger problem with Silence! The Musical though than its inability to effectively offend, in that it fails to capture even the slightest tension that made The Silence of the Lambs so compelling. While inherent in most of these types of spoofs, given our familiarity with the story or genre, it is then up to the parody itself to carry the show. But while Silence! The Musical definitely has its moments, it does start to wear a little thin about an hour into this 90-minute show.
Not that this capable cast isn’t giving their all in trying to make the material work. Under Mark Carter’s direction they never take themselves, or the material, too seriously. With an almost constant self-awareness, there is a satisfying playfulness which helps. At times though Carter does let his actors go a little too big, even for a parody.
Stephanie Liatopoulos as FBI agent-wannabe Clarice Starling, comes armed with an effective and exaggerated Jodie Foster inspired lisp, and Seth Gordon Little gives us his best measured Anthony Hopkins impersonation as Hannibal The Cannibal.
Mike Kovac holds little back as the serial killer Buffalo Bill in search of a new skin, complete with a laugh-out-loud “tuck” at the end of one of his musical numbers, and Steffanie Davis has great fun playing the dual roles of mother and daughter with one of the best voices of the night.
In one of the show’s funnier sequences, Scott Walters dons the familial lisp for “Papa Shtarling”, lamenting in the end just how lonely it is being dead.
The rest of the ensemble – Derry Oshust, Jenn Suratos and Graeme Thompson – who play other incidental characters find their biggest strength as they come together as the dancing and singing chorus dressed as lambs with floppy ears and plastic hooves.
A precursor perhaps to what lies in wait at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival, there is no denying Silence! The Musical would make any Fringe show jealous what with its comfortable seats, air-conditioning, and proper lighting and sound. Don’t believe all of the hype though, it isn’t quite as shocking as you think it is.
Silence! The Musical with music and lyrics by Jon Kaplan & Al Kaplan, and a book by Hunter Bell. Adapted from the screenplay Silence! The Musical by Jon and Al Kaplan. A DSR Production in association with the Neanderthal Arts Festival on stage at the BMO Theatre Centre (162 West 1st Ave, Vancouver) until August 3. Visit silencethemusical.ca for tickets and information.