Music and lyrics by Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan. Book by Hunter Bell. Directed by Mark Carter. Produced by DSR Productions and the Neanderthal Arts Festival. At the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre on Friday, July 26. Continues until August 3
Almost everything you need to know about this musical parody of the Academy Award–winning film The Silence of the Lambs can be gleaned from its best song, “If I Could Smell Her Cunt”. If this offends you, or you don’t get the joke right away—it’s from a line that one of the prison inmates snarls at young FBI agent in training Clarice Starling when she visits infamous cannibal and murderer Dr. Hannibal Lecter for the first time—Silence! The Musical might not be the production for you.
This showstopper of a number represents the first meeting between Clarice (Stephanie Liatopoulos) and Hannibal (Seth Gordon Little). Although a student, Clarice has been called into FBI headquarters because of her interest in psychology and serial killers. Buffalo Bill (Mike Kovac) has been murdering women and the FBI is desperate to find him before he kills Catherine (Steffanie Davis), the missing daughter of a senator. Clarice’s boss thinks Hannibal is the key to stopping Bill and rescuing Catherine, and he doesn’t care that he might be putting Clarice in harm’s way by asking her to go toe-to-toe with an evil genius.
Aspects of the film’s plot, and by extension the musical’s plot, resonate more today than when The Silence of the Lambs debuted in 1991. An intrepid young woman triumphing over institutional sexism in the workplace, as well as besting misogynistic sexual predators and murderers? It’s a contemporary feminist fairy tale. But a few “jokes” are decidedly dated. The parody was written in 2005 and a couple of moments now feel transphobic and homophobic, and therer's an entire subplot that’s just fat-shaming for comic relief. Thankfully, when Silence! The Musical sticks to murder and misogyny, which it does most of the time, it is wildly funny.
The cast is talented, and all have good comedic timing. The music is repetitive, but most of the songs are memorably macabre, thanks to hilarious lyrics and good performances. Liatopoulos has to be the straight woman while the rest of the actors get to be joyfully unhinged around her, but she’s ready to play every time she gets the opportunity, especially opposite Little. The pair have a lot of fun as Clarice and Hannibal tango and twirl, verbally and physically. But it’s Little who almost steals the show while bringing Hannibal to exaggerated life. He savours every word that Hannibal speaks and reacts to every absurdity. It’s an engrossing, demented, delightful performance. It also speaks to the power of Hannibal Lecter that parody doesn’t diminish his character; rather, it somehow makes him more iconic.