If you’re a fan of the Jodi Foster/Anthony Hopkins flick The Silence of the Lambs, you will no doubt have a blast with this no-holds-barred parody, Silence! The Musical, now at Blank Canvas Theatre. Of course, you really don’t need any history with that movie to enjoy this often clever and frequently rude tribute to the story about two serial killers and one plucky FBI agent who is assigned to deal with them.
But first, let’s cut to the chase. There’s a remarkably offensive word in an early song in this show that, I would wager, has never been sung in any other musical. Ever. And that’s probably a good thing. Not only is it sung once, it is reprised a couple minutes later and then repeated in the second act.
The word refers to the private area of the female anatomy, a word that even Donald Trump has so far declined to use in public, starts with “c” and the full title of the song is “If I Could Smell Her C_ _ _.” This is not an entirely gratuitous reference, since there is a similar wish alluded to by the evil Hannibal Lecter in the movie.
The manner in which this play’s creators (music and lyrics by Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan, book by Hunter Bell) use that word illustrate what is right with this show, and also where it goes off the tracks. The gleeful offensiveness of that word picks up on the vibe The Book of Mormon and its off-color ditties. That’s fair game. But it is repeated so often it begins to dull the senses, as do some other tropes used by the writers and BCT director Jonathan Kronenberger.
Still, this show is paced perfectly by Kronenberger, allowing the jokes to fly by fast and furiously, as they should. And the talented performers give it their all. As Clarice Starling, the young FBI agent, Kelly Strand is appropriately solid and straightforward while mimicking and exaggerating Jodi Foster’s lateral lisp and southern accent. However, whatever humor content that resides in that slight speech defect is beaten within an inch of its life by repetition. Clarice’s first song is titled “Thish Ish It” and the lisp even appears in words on the two screens hovering over the stage.
As the sociopathic Hannibal Lecter, Brian Altman employs a smooth and unctuous delivery to capture some of Anthony Hopkins’ skin-crawlingly creepy vibe. And even though it goes on far too long, his rendition of the “C” song is both stupefying and raunchily amusing. Joe Virgo is also a standout as Buffalo Bill, the gender-confused serial killer they’re hunting for who captures plus-size women, keeps them in a pit, makes them soften their skin with lotion, and then kills and skins them so he can crawl inside their epidermis. Fans of the movie know all this, so the play focuses on other things, such as Buffalo Bill’s song “Put the Fucking Lotion in the Basket.”
In smaller roles, Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski sings up a storm as Senator Martin, whose daughter Catherine has been abducted by Buffalo Bill. And Tonya Broach and Trey Gilpin add amusing cameos among the multiple roles they play. It is all supported by a chorus of white-wigged lambs who sing and dance and keep the plot moving forward.
While often offensive, juvenile and excessive, Silence! qualifies for its exclamation point through the kind of sharp, disciplined performance standards that BCT has often featured, under the artistic direction of Patrick Ciamacco.
Silence! The Musical
Through November 5 at Blank Canvas Theatre, at the West 78th Street Studios, 440-941-0458.