Its dark plot and its all-been-done-before ambience don’t prevent Silence! The Musical from being a ferociously feel-good tuner. Stray Cat Theatre’s production is deliberately scruffy but never sophomoric, and held aloft by neat performances, and Louis Farber’s tidy direction. This musicalization of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs — that grisly and iconic 1991 murder mystery starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins — relies on talent and an audience that wants naughty song lyrics and a leading man who’s a transvestite serial killer. If the performance I attended is any indication, Silence! has both.
Squeamish ticketholders needn’t fear: Playwright Hunter Bell’s tasteless punch lines are surprisingly mild (although some lyrics by Jon and Al Kaplan are not). One needn’t come to Silence! with a memory bag packed with images from the movie or a working knowledge of Jodie Foster’s career; the narrative is simple enough, and the characters are archetypes who don’t need a hook on which to hang their tuneful antics.?There’s Clarice, an FBI training academy student determined to crack a serial killer’s codes; Buffalo Bill (played with creepy panache by David Chorley), who aims to make a costume from his victims’ skin; and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, whose infamous “fava beans” quote is fortunately tossed off within the musical’s first minutes.
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Scott Schmelder gives Lecter a droll, expressive face, neat comic timing, and a hokey British accent that never falters. He’s also in excellent voice. As Clarice, Brandi Bigley is appropriately deadpan and earnest, her sideways impersonation of Foster keen enough to be amusing. Both receive terrific comic support from the ensemble, most notably Cassie Chilton as both a kidnap victim and her mother, and whose solo is the aural high point of the show.
Alicia Ferrin’s energetic four-piece rock band is under-amplified, providing a pleasant change that allows every one of the Kaplans’ naughty lyrics to be heard. Choreographer Nicole Olson has some fun with faux-Fosse moves by a small herd of dancers (dressed as lambs, natch) who turn up when things aren’t silly enough.
If Stray Cat’s production is short on theatrical bells and whistles, it’s meant to be. Its pop-culture ghoulishness and easy laughs will go over big with fans of deliberately tacky pop musicals. And who, as our theater season winds to a close, wants anything more?
Silence! The Musical continues through May 19 at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 West Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe. Call 480-227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.