The lambs are not silent. Outfitted with fleece forearms and ears, they bleat, sing, dance and preen. They even have personalities, and the chorus of lambs is divided into cliques of snooty lambs, curious lambs and others.
In the 1991 Academy Award-winning film “The Silence of the Lambs,” the sheep were mostly in FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling’s nightmares. The psychopathic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter coaxed her into sharing that fear with him, but it was one of the more manageable horrors in a crime thriller filled with serial killers and their depraved obsessions.
In “Silence! The Musical,” which The Storyville Collective and Doctuh Mistuh Productions open Friday at the Twilight Room at AllWays Lounge, there’s plenty of lambs swirling around the strange liaison between Clarice and Lecter, all framed by the conventions of romantic Broadway musicals.
The show was hatched as a collection of songs writers Jon and Al Kaplan posted on the internet in 2003. They later developed a full show with a book by Hunter Bell, who wrote “[title of show].” It premiered in 2005 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, also the origin of the musical “Urinetown!” “Silence!” had a 500-show run off-Broadway from 2011 to 2013 and attracted a host of top New York stage actors who wanted to play the iconic Lecter, says director Michael McKelvey, who runs Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane University and The Storyville Collective.
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“The Silence of the Lambs” spawned a host of phrases that live on in popular culture, notably including Buffalo Bill’s instructions to a woman he imprisons, “It places the lotion in the basket.” “Silence! The Musical” uses many of the memorable quotes as the inspirations for songs or humor. Some of the musical has rough language, and though there’s precious little nudity, there’s some.
Hannah Rachal stars as Clarice, but she also essentially plays Jodie Foster playing Clarice, with a thick rural West Virginia accent and an exaggerated lisp. Clarice wants to become an FBI agent, but in the musical, she doesn’t seem witty or alert enough to keep up with the criminals, and all the men try to distract her with romantic overtures.
Kevin Murphy plays the childisly vain and crazily erudite Lecter. He turns the signature menacing whisper Anthony Hopkins gave Lecter into an solicitous hiss, whether he’s reading Clarice’s mind, evaluating a person’s psychological foibles or listing the nicknames of bizarre sexual acts he believes Clarice’s boss has fantasized about while sending her on assignment. But in the end, this Lecter is more desperate for attention than human flesh, fava beans and chianti.
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Matt Reed plays Clarice’s father Papa Starling. Trey Ming is the industrious Buffalo Bill. Elyse McDaniel is both Catherine and her mother, Sen. Ruth Martin. Many actors play multiple roles and there is a regular flock of lambs swirling about the stage. Jefferson Turner provides the music.
McKelvey’s Storyville Collective and Doctuh Mistuh Productions produced an award-winning version of “Silence! the Musical” in Austin, Texas. In New Orleans, he directed “The Laramie Project” last year, on the 20th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder. He also presented “Hand to God,” the story of a church youth group member whose hand puppet is demonically possessed.
“Silence! The Musical” runs at The AllWays Lounge, Sept. 6-16 and moves to the New Orleans Arts Center for productions Sept. 19-28.
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