‘SILENCE!’ REVIEW: These lambs won’t stay silent for long

Jenn Harris and Brent Barrett in ‘Silence! The Musical’ — Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Although the subject matter is grim and grotesque, the dialogue and song-and-dance numbers are often hilarious.

Jon and Al Kaplan’s long gestating show, Silence! The Musical, has arrived off-Broadway and the results are inspired fun. Hunter Bell’s book is witty and clever, while the Kaplans show an obvious skill with their music and lyrics. Not everything works in the two-hour show, but when the jokes land, there’s no stopping the deafening Silence!

Everyone knows the story, and if you don’t, check out Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning film, The Silence of the Lambs. The updated musical faithfully follows the original screenplay.

Jenn Harris plays Clarice Starling, a tomboyish new recruit to the FBI. Her first big assignment is interviewing Hannibal Lecter (Brent Barrett, with a voice that is scarily powerful), an imprisoned cannibal who may help the feds catch a deranged man known as Buffalo Bill (Stephen Bienskie).

Even though they sing about eating humans and murdering big-boned women, everything is kept light and funny in the dirty, dirty show. Many of the lyrics are downright raunchy, but the cast sells each song as if it was genuine Broadway fare. Much like the recent downtown hits Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Peter and the Starcatcher, the talented cast of actors works tirelessly to bring every scene to life. With the spin of a simple set piece we go from Lecter’s prison cell to Buffalo Bill’s dark, dank basement. Credit should be given to the inventive director, Christopher Gattelli.

Helping accentuate the night with added humor is a chorus of “lambs,” which truly needs to be seen to be believed. Of the supporting cast, Jeff Hiller, a veteran of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, gets the most mileage out of his many roles. The actor simply has to say one line or make a funny face and the audience at Theatre 80, where Silence! plays through Saturday, Sept. 24, erupts in laughter. He’s a star waiting to breakout.

Harris also holds much of the show together as Clarice. She has the perfect impersonation of Jodie Foster’s awkward accent in the film, and she offers every line with a dedicated demeanor. When Clarice is told that she may not be involved in the final crackdown on Buffalo Bill, the actress comes alive to utter a profanity-laced screed that proves to be the comedic highlight of the show.

In the singing department, Barrett simply can’t be matched. This Broadway veteran has a vocal instrument that is unparalleled. If anything, his voice reverberates too loudly for the small theatrical digs on St. Mark’s Place. When he sings about Clarice’s unhygienic ways (although it’s much dirtier when he sings it), it’s difficult to catch one’s breath from the constant laughs.

Not everything is perfect. At two hours, the show feels 20 minutes too long, and although many of the jokes rip into the sides of theatergoers, some of them fall flat. A little editing could work wonders.

Amazingly, a parody of a movie that came out 20 years ago still works. At first glance, it would seem the material would be dated or that audiences would forget the specifics of the plot, but this hard-working cast lands the jokes with smiling glee.

It’s not the best show in town, but it’s probably the zaniest.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Silence! The Musical

  • Music and lyrics by Jon and Al Kaplan (based on their original screenplay)

  • Book by Hunter Bell

  • Directed and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli

  • Starring Brent Barrett, Stephen Bienski, Jenn Harris and Jeff Hiller

  • Playing at Theatre 80 at 80 St. Mark’s Place in New York City

  • Click here for more information. Tickets are $25-$65.

  • Running time: two hours

  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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