Terror always holds the temptation of laughter. Humankind spent 2.5 million years clinging to branches and shrieking, “Please don’t eat me, please don’t eat me!” It is our very nature to be terrified. Paradoxically, it is also in our nature to mock our monsters.
You see this demonstrated by the fact that Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, which had so horrified audiences during the thirties, would be the foil for jokes in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. You’ll find this in the unjustly ignored minor masterpieces of film director Jeff Lieberman, Squirm and Blue Sunshine, and Kubrick’s justly celebrated Dr. Strangelove.
In her truly remarkable study of the hold the gladiator and the grotesque had over the society of ancient Rome, “The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans”, Carlin A. Barton speaks of “…both the thaumatopoioi and the gelotopoioi, the ‘wonder-worker’ and the ‘laughter-maker’; the ones who fascinated and the ones who broke the spell.”
We’ve all experienced some moment where the unbearable terror we’ve felt has unraveled into a spasm of chortling. So it is perfectly understandable how the white-knuckled classic Silence of the Lambs can find itself embodied on the stage of the Hayworth Theatre as “Silence! The Musical”.
With music and lyrics by Jon and Al Kaplan, book by Hunter Bell and Christopher Gattelli aboard as director and choreographer “Silence” is horrifyingly fun. Great fun! With a chorus of tap-dancing lambs, songs such as “If I Could Smell Her C**t” and Hannibal the Cannibal crooning lyrics like, “If I promise not to eat her, perhaps she’ll be my friend” how can you go wrong?
The satire here is sharper than the blades on Freddy Krueger’s gloves. Gattelli’s choreography contributes many a laugh to the evening. There is a spot-on Bob Fosse parody that is too sweet for the sugar bowl, but it’s the graceful pairing of Melissa Sandvig and Karl Warden for the romantic ballad “If I Could Smell Her C**t” that slays you.
Christine Lakin tackles the role of Clarice Starling with a nuance lampoon of Jodie Foster and a deadpan delivery worthy of Buster Keaton. Jeff Skowron judges how to be over the top without going through the ceiling with amazing aplomb in the role of Dr. Chilton. Davis Gaines brings sterling comic timing to the role of Hannibal Lecter, that connoisseur of “long pig”.
The supporting cast of Kathy Deitch, Alaine Kashian, Howard Kaye, LaToya London and Jesse Merlin swirl about the stage like quicksilver, but special mention must be made of the madcap Jeff Hiller who bounds between scenes like Shakespeare’s Puck, tweaking on Meth. His prancing silliness is a rarity, the sort possessed by the likes of the late great Stephen Stucker who along with David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams packed audiences into the Kentucky Fried Theater on Pico from 1972 until hitting the big times in 1977.
Stephen who is best remembered as Johnny the crazed air traffic controller in “Airplane” was tragically taken from us at the age of 38, I suppose because God needed a good laugh. Stephen would have given Hiller the thumbs up. And I’m giving “Silence! The Musical” two big thumbs up. Way, way up!
Hopefully Lecter won’t mistakenly see them as finger food.
Silence! The Musical
The Hayworth Theatre
2509 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Sat, Sep 08 – Sun, Oct 21