By Maureen Martin / Correspondent


November 5, 2018

At first thought, a musical based on the intense psychological drama “The Silence of the Lambs,” depicting the encounter of a fledgling FBI agent and a brilliant cannibalistic serial killer, appears far removed from plausible. Dark enough to make “Sweeney Todd” seem a day in the park, Thomas Harris’ novel-turned-award-winning-movie hardly qualifies for song and dance.

And yet …

“Silence! The Musical” not only parodies the story, but closely follows the plot points, managing to create a vastly different universe without deviating from the essence. Like a cracked mirror.

Before heaping well-deserved praise on Venice Theatre’s Stage II production, it is best to note that this satire is not for everyone. Not because its roots are steadfastly in the horror genre, but rather due to its bold-faced embrace of coarse and vulgar language, action, and suggestion. Leave the children home.

Although directly related to prurient little-boy humor, “Silence!” ascends to a higher realm of ribald sophistication because it is ridiculously, riotously funny. Lyricist/composers Jon and Alan Kaplan and book writer Hunter Bell create deliciously clever wordplay and music that is bouncy and bawdy. The ever-cunning director Kelly Wynn Woodland, working with an uber-talented nine-member company that seems like a cast of thousands, has filled a frenziedly shifting stage with surprises, innuendo and flagrant titillation that is just too much this side of laugh-out-loud to be seriously sexual.

Brian Freeman’s deceptively barren stage comes alive from the opening onslaught of way-too-cute lambs hoofing into the spotlight, priming the audience for what’s to come on many levels. Despite having only a few bodies to work with, Brian Finnerty’s choreography erupts., filling the stage with the evocative scent of a woman, the self-loathing/self-love of a killer, and the queasy excitement of a SWAT team.

Adam-Bobby Farman’s rapid-change suggestions of character through remnants of costume delightfully run the gamut from suited senator to ballet tutus, guards, inmates, denizens of the street, and, of course, the lambs. Cindy Carruth’s lighting and Dorian Boyd’s sound design maintain appropriate focus. Not an easy feat given an assortment of talking, scratching, and flying puppets; tumbling and rotating actors; and a stage evolving via rolling set pieces, a dance corps, and a ghostly or distant apparition.

Music director Peter Madpak’s three-piece ensemble of piano and drums, like the cast, sounds bigger.

Each and every member of the top-notch, wonderfully diverse (in age and body shape) cast has a splendid moment in the limelight. It is satisfying to encounter a chorus that reflects humanity as we live it — vibrant, expressive and working together in harmony, changing and interchanging roles… one moment spotlit, the next in shadow. A well-orchestrated team.

Some do stand out, of course, beginning with Kari Solum, who never loses track of who the FBI agent Clarice is, who she aspires to be, and how — with a side-helping of oblique clues — she plans to merge the two. She handles the character’s speech impediment skillfully and with a professionalism that nicely defines the young agent without making her a caricature.

To say that the ever-entertaining Chris Caswell was destined for the role of Hannibal Lecter may be a cringe-worthy compliment, but his mature, earnest presence while delivering impassioned lyrics potentially too raw for everyone’s taste attests to his well-seasoned gifts. Matching Caswell for audacious performance, Charlie Kollar brings down the house as the hunted Buffalo Bill in frizzy blonde wig and kimono, wanting to be wanted.

Andrea Keddell adeptly juggles dual roles as captive daughter and mourning mother. Rik Robertson is both an FBI boss and amusing yet haunting as Clarice’s murdered father. As Dream Clarice, Amanda Heisey moves from the frying pan into the fire of Lecter’s disturbing musings, maintaining a grace and beauty in the face of all things lewd. Danielle Snelling’s Ardelia lacks the mandated chemistry with Clarice but pulls out all the stops in fringe and waggles.

Steve McAllister’s too-smooth Dr Chilton deftly earns the got-what’s-coming-to-him call-out at play’s end. As for Paul Costello’s Pembry — on Lecter’s table, the cheese stands alone, but essential to the whole.

In a word, it is a wonderful production. If you’re looking for offense, there is plenty to be offended by. The language, the lisp and the handless man — in other hands might be insulting and denigrating. And most of the show is a viable target of the #metoo movement. And some aspects could be personally distressing. When did size 14 become a symbol of excess and fat?

Nothing is muzzled in “Silence! The Musical,” which produces killer laughs.