Curtain Rises: ‘Silence! The Musical’ LV premiere April 3-11 at Civic Theatre
Civic Theatre of Allentown’s “Silence! The Musical,” April 3 - 11, Civic Theatre514, Allentown, is based on the 1991 film “Silence of the Lambs,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.
At first glance, this stage adaptation might not seem like a good idea.
But “Silence!” is so over the top, the psychological horror does not hit home in the way it does in the film, and it is overshadowed by laughs.
Civic Theater of Allentown Artistic Director William Sanders, who’s directing the show, says, “It is really in good fun. The violence is silly.”
“Silence!” is a satire not only of the Academy Award-winning film (it received five Oscars: Picture; Director, Jonathan Demme; Actor, Hopkins; Actress, Foster; Adapted Screenplay, Ted Tally), it’s a satire of Broadway itself.
In recent years, many musicals have been adapted from outside sources, such as movies or pop songwriters and rock performers, instead of original material. So why not this one?
The music of “Silence!” is often operatic, poking fun at Broadway musicals such as “Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats,” which can be said to have classical pretensions.
People offended by strong language and sexual themes may not want to attend “Silence!”
“We have been aggressive about marketing, so people know what to expect. It is X- rated with raunchy language. We call it ‘good clean filthy fun’,” says Sanders.
Civic’s production is the Lehigh Valley premiere of “Silence!,” which has not even played in Philadelphia yet. Sanders has wanted to do the musical for years.
“Silence!” had its origins on the Internet, with nine songs posted online by Jon and Al Kaplan.
“This was before 2003, so there was no Instagram or Twitter,” says Sanders. “It became famous by word of mouth.”
The songs quickly went viral.
Hunter Bell, who wrote the book for “Silence! The Musical,” approached the Kaplans to do a production. They wrote six more songs for the show.
“We saw it at the Fringe Festival, and at the East Village and Midtown Manhattan,” recalls Sanders. “We laughed our butts off. I was a big fan of the movie, and I thought this was the most hilarious parody I had ever seen.”
The musical premiered Off-Broadway in 2005 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. The backing fell through for a 2007 revival, but it returned to Off-Broadway in 2011 and ran in 2013 in Times Square.
“It is a balance of fun and seriousness,” says Sanders. “It is close to the actual screenplay. The plot has to follow the same objectives so the audience is involved.”
Although the musical cannot resist some cheap gags, the characters are developed and the tension in the pursuit is maintained.
“Trying to find Buffalo Bill is not a joke,” Sanders says.
The show has a cast of 11, which includes a chorus of lambs.
Four of the leads are making their first appearance at the Civic.
Deena Linn plays Clarice, who develops an unusual rapport with Hannibal Lecter (Mike Daniels) and works to track down serial killer Buffalo Bill (Jason Roth).
Audrey Lasicki is the kidnap victim and her mother, Juanita Shockley is Ardelia, who assists Clarice.
Mason McGowan is Lector’s jailer, and Todd Rizzuto plays an FBI agent and Clarice’s father.
Unusual subjects have been the basis of musicals before this one. Stephen Sondheim did “Sweeney Todd,” about a legendary Victorian murderer, and “Assassins,” about the real and attempted killers of American presidents. Sanders says “Silence!” reminds him musically and stylistically of the irreverent satire “Urinetown.”
An obvious comparison is with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” musical, which Sanders directed at the Civic to begin the 2010-11 season.
Although “Rocky Horror” did not have serious source material, both musicals share an “anything goes” spirit.
As “Rocky Horror” did, “Silence!” will also have a late night show, for which Sanders expects a younger and “happier” audience, although there is no audience participation for “Silence!,” as there is with “Rocky Horror.”
“The 514 theater is the perfect space for this,” says Sanders.
The show’s instructions call for a scaled-down set.
“It should look like poor theater, low budget, with silly homemade props,” Sanders note.
The show has 150 of the latter.
“There are only three rolling panels, three chairs, and a desk that also serves as a slab in the morgue,” he says.
Music Director Neil Chavan accompanies on keyboards, along with a drummer.
“Silence! The Musical,” April 3-11. Tickets: Civic Theatre of Allentown box office, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 19th Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; www.civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943
“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. Email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, email@example.com