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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018 2 weeks ago

Venice Theatre produces biting comedy based on 'Silence of the Lambs' film

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'Silence! The Musical' makes area debut at Venice Theatre Nov. 2 and runs through Nov. 25.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Hannibal Lecter is coming to Venice Theatre. Not to fear. He’s got a song in his heart this time. 

Silence! The Musical” gets the credit or blame. As you probably guessed, it’s a musical adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs.”

We’re not making this up. Though it seems that way.

“The Silence of the Lambs” wrestled with the problem of evil. In terms of subject matter, that’s as serious as it gets — and unlikely fodder for a musical adaptation. And a musical comedy? You’d have to be out of your mind.

But that’s exactly what Jon and Al Kaplan did with this dark material.

This band of brothers has a riotously raunchy reputation as composers, lyricists and comedy writers in the alternate theater scene. Back in 2002, they noticed a spate of bad Broadway musical adaptations that took themselves totally seriously. 

So the snarky brothers wrote a short list of movies that should never, ever, under any conceivable circumstances be turned into musicals. “The Silence of the Lambs” was at the top of their list. They started goofing around with the notion. Humming songs. Improvising lyrics and dialogue. The Kaplans kept cracking themselves up — and kept going. Their unlikely adaptation snowballed from there.

Before long, they released a core of over-the-top musical parodies on YouTube. The videos quickly went viral, and the brothers took the silly notion seriously. The Kaplans launched a full-fledged musical at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2005. Hunter Bell (of “[title of show]” fame) wrote the book.

The result was a cheeky parody worthy of Mel Brooks at his raunchiest. It was a hit at the Fringe Festival, and it’s been an underground hit at black box theaters and midnight venues ever since.

Their monster musical is finally coming to our area. Kelly Woodland will direct. Peter Madpak and Brian Finnerty will supply musical direction and choreography, respectively. The lead roles include Kari Solum as Clarice Starling, Chris Caswell as Hannibal Lecter, and Charles Kollar as Buffalo Bill. There will also be a Greek chorus of floppy-eared lambs. (Hand puppets, that is. They don’t actually scream.)

Woodland says rehearsals had long passed the point where the cast wasn’t constantly cracking up. (Buffalo Bill’s serial killer hoedown was always a challenge to get through.)

“It’s fun to rehearse — and demanding,” she says. “There are almost no stage directions, so we had to work that out as we went along.”

What tone can audiences expect?

Woodland says this cannibal comedy is not for kids.

“This is an adult comedy in every sense of the word,” she says bluntly. “An ‘R’ rating would be generous, so don’t bring the kids—and please stay home if that’s not your cup of tea.”

By way of example, she mentions the unprintable title of the opening number. (For the record, it is, indeed, unprintable.)

But don’t get the wrong impression. According to Finnerty, the musical’s a form of “poor man’s theater.” As noted, the script is nearly free of stage direction. The Kaplans also encourage minimalist, makeshift staging—an ad hoc approach that demands creative leaps. “All the sets, costumes and props you’ll see could be made from anything in your junk drawer,” Finnerty says. “It’s quite adorable.”

Finnerty says he’s had a blast choreographing the show with his dance captain, Amanda Heisey. A dancing chorus line of lamb puppets was a new experience for both of them. But the show really belongs to the comedians.

Woodland agrees, naturally. With a qualification.

“Audiences will see a different side to these talents — a side you’ve maybe never seen before. You’ll see actors like Chris Caswell known for serious roles do hilarious comedy. Allan Kollar, our artistic director, even gets a part.”

She adds that the musical itself flips audience expectations.

“‘Silence!’ is a loving parody, but it’s never safe — and you can never second-guess where it’s going to go next. This show is definitely off the beaten path. It’ll take you to a place you’ve never been before. And that’s exactly why we’re doing it.”

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