Cannibalism, skinning: that's entertainment!

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday February 7, 2017
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Anne Norland, as FBI trainee Clarice Starling, is joined<br>by a chorus of lambs in <i>Silence! The Musical,</i> a spoof of <i>Silence of the Lambs </i>at the Victoria Theatre. Photo: Kevin Berne
Anne Norland, as FBI trainee Clarice Starling, is joined
by a chorus of lambs in Silence! The Musical, a spoof of Silence of the Lambs at the Victoria Theatre. Photo: Kevin Berne

It's popcorn rather than fava beans that will have to accompany the concession-stand Chianti at the Victoria Theatre, where Silence! The Musical recently opened. A nice Chianti would probably be overkill at this broadly targeted spoof that throws together moments of slam-bam sophistication with go-for-broke foolishness and jaw-dropping vulgarity. Not all of it works, but this "unauthorized" sendup of Silence of the Lambs can be pretty damn funny.

The 1991 movie about a serial cannibal and a serial skinner may seem among the unlikeliest of sources for a musical, but of course, that's the point. Key moments of the movie are exaggerated for laughs, but the musical also uses the plot as a clothesline on which to hang all sorts of comic bits that mock musical-theater tropes, pull in physical comedy bits, and shamelessly throw in jokes as old as burlesque. So you may have a chorus doing a jazz-hands routine during the examination of a corpse or a cast member clapping together chalk erasers to create a fog through which a dead character can emerge.

The musical began as a series of parody songs by Jon and Al Kaplan that found a following on YouTube, and a script they had prepared was then augmented by Broadway veteran Hunter Bell. A short run at the NY Fringe Fest in 2005 eventually led to a successful off-Broadway engagement, and original producer Victoria Lang and Seattle-based Cloud 9 Theatricals decided San Francisco was fertile ground for their show. Wisely, they teamed with Ray of Light Theatre, veterans at presenting offbeat musicals at the Victoria Theatre, and its creative team has brought their signature polish and imagination.

The production's centerpiece is Anne Norland's performance as Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee given the assignment of interviewing Hannibal Lecter, a devilishly shrewd prisoner in a psychiatric facility who may hold the key to finding a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill. Norland captures many of the tics and traits of Jodie Foster, who won an Oscar as Clarice, pumping up and puncturing the character's grave demeanor and turning Foster's lightly sibilant lisp into slush.

As Hannibal Lecter, Scott Hayes could be Anthony Hopkins' missing twin. He looks and acts like the screen original, and merrily takes the character over the top in his signature aria "If I Could Smell Her Cunt," spun from an actual line in the movie, which mocks Phantom of the Opera-type dirges and even features a dream ballet that leaves little to the imagination.

Many of the other performers play multiple roles, which can become a source of comedy as quick changes are only slightly disguised. Brendon North makes his main character as the head of a psychiatric prison a comic delight with a series of misguided attempts at suave maneuvers in his wheeled office chair. Matt Hammons connects with Clarice's supercilious supervisor, and Brian Watson twinkles in a sexual confusion as Buffalo Bill that finds some explanation in his cheery song "I'd Fuck Me." Meanwhile, a senator's daughter awaits his scalpel, played as a whining brat by Hayley Lovgren, who also plays her dignified mother, who hits some stunning notes in her public musical plea to the kidnapper. Angel Adedokun brings more merriment to the proceedings that have fun with their feeble attempts to differentiate between her multiple small roles and who finally gets a big number because " well, just because.

Jason Hoover, artistic director of Ray of Light, has staged the production with considerable comic inspiration on Kuo-Hao Lo's always-in-motion set, while choreographer Alex Rodriguez's choreography merrily tweaks various Broadway styles. A chorus of floppy-eared lambs sounds funnier than it is, but Rodriquez gives them a Rockettes-style kickline that is hard to resist. Musical director Ben Prince creates an impressive sound with a small ensemble.

Silence of the Lambs was queasy entertainment, not a movie that called out for repeated viewings. I haven't seen it since its release in 1991, but memories are vivid enough to get the musical's inside jokes. Mostly, though, it wears its jokes on the outside like, say, a loose-fitting hide.

 

Silence! The Musical will run at the Victoria Theatre through March 18. Tickets are $35-$55. Tickets at silencethemusicalsf.com.