One of the most overused punchlines of recent times has been "[Fill in the Blank] -- The Musical." You take the most unlikely property and speculate about making it into a Broadway tuner, and - pow - instant comedy. For example:
Schindler's List -- The Musical
The Warren Report -- The Musical
'Night, Mother -- The Musical
Armageddon - The Musical
Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary -- The Musical
The Green Mile -- The Musical
Million Dollar Baby -- The Musical
Hotel Rwanda -- The Musical
The Book of Mormon -- The Musical (Oh, wait...)
(See my previous post on the topic for more side-splitting examples. Or, better yet, submit your own examples. Start a Twitter thread. Use it as a party game! It makes its own gravy!)
Of course, the very premise of this sort of jocularity violates one of the major tenets of my musical-theater history course: there is no such this as a bad idea for a musical, only poor execution. Nevertheless, jarringly ironic possibilities are the basis for much of the humor of a number of musical parodies over the years, including Star Wars - The Musical, A Very Potter Musical, and the subject of today's symposium, Silence! The Musical, now playing an extended run at Theater 80 on St. Mark's Place in the East Village.
Silence! The Musical is a loving(?) spoof of "The Silence of the Lambs," and the very idea of making a musical out of such a property admittedly flies in the face of my above-stated dictum about there being no such thing as a bad idea. And that's part of the fun. But, as with most parodies, the joke gets old really quickly, and even the most talented of parodists will usually have trouble sustaining the humor for more than, say, 90 minutes. Silence! clocked in at about two hours the night I saw it, with a ten-minute intermission. (Why have an intermission at all? Well, the folks at Theater 80 clearly want to make money selling drinks at intermission. They even take your drink order before the show. In today's economy, you can hardly blame them, but it does make the evening drag on longer than is probably wise.)
Even so, there are laughs aplenty to be had, albeit sophomoric ones, in Silence!, most of them from the self-consciously arch book by Hunter Bell and the sharp direction and choreography by Christopher Gattelli. As for the score, well, the idea for the show apparently originated with a series of songs by Jon and Al Kaplan, with Bell and Gattelli stepping in later when the show was staged for the New York International Fringe Festival. Well, all I can say is the Kaplans are pretty fortunate that the pros came on board, because their score is bland and monotonous, and the lyrics are puerile and forced. The Kaplans' idea of witty wordplay seems to consist of repeating the word "cunt" a dozen times or so throughout a song. And their egregious use of slant rhyme (pairing "predator" with "senator") is distracting and lazy.
Another major asset of the production, adding immeasurably to the show's overall comedic impact, is a marvelously protean cast of old faces and new, at least to this reviewer. Chief among these is Jenn Harris as Clarice Starling, whose deadpan Jodie Foster with a speech impediment never seems to get old. Standouts among the supporting cast are Harry Bouvy as Dr. Chilton (the one who meets a culinary end) and Stephen Bienskie as Jamie "Buffalo Bill" Gumb. Both performers had the kind of complete and warped characterizations that helped to make the often repetitive material come to comedic life on the stage. Brent Barrett seemed miscast to me as Hannibal Lecter, or perhaps I'm just too used to him performing material more commensurate with his talent. He really seemed to be slumming it here.
But, again, the humor fails to sustain itself throughout the show, and some of the jokes weren't coming off at all. Although I saw the show on what was supposed to be opening night, there were quite a few staging glitches and prop mishaps on display. Also, this was one of the only times I've ever seen a cast member corpsing on a professional stage. (That's a British term for breaking character and laughing during a performance.) I'm sorry, but that's simply inexcusable. Apparently Jenn Harris was extemporizing during the morgue scene, but please, people, this isn't "The Carol Burnett Show."
In truth, most of the critics were pretty ecstatic about Silence!, or at least a lot more positive about the show than I was. In fact, the run has been extended through August 27, and the show has added Thursday performances. It's worth a trip to the Village if you're looking for a hearty guffaw or two. I just think if you order one of those intermission drinks you might enjoy the second act a bit more than I did.
But, hey, don't just go by me. Coming soon, we have a first for EIKILFM: a second opinion. Watch for another review of Silence! The Musical, this one by one of my best Conservatory students, who has since graduated and moved to New York to make a name for himself. He's a strong writer, and has equally strong opinions, and I'm hoping this is the start of bringing more voices into the EIKILFM fold.