I have to say, when I first heard a song from “Silence: The Musical” during “Blink – and You Missed It” at the Above the Stag Theatre in August, I had no idea that this was going to mark the start of a theme for six months of theater-going. Although I might have hesitated to see a musical version of Silence of the Lambs, as I am in fact terribly squeamish and quite adverse to the sight of blood, the very funny song in “Blink!” convinced me that I could easily go without getting squicked, and thus I said yes to the production at the Baron’s Court Theater in October. It turned out to be one of my two favorite musicals of 2009 (the other being the all-male Pirates of Penzance), with shockingly hummable, if generally unsingable (in polite company) songs, sharp characterizations, and a genuinely interesting story. And it was hysterically funny. So of course when I heard it was being performed again, even though a mere three months later, at the Above the Stag theater, I jumped on tickets (a good thing as it’s now already almost sold out for the run).
I have to say, though, I was quite surprised to have the show announced as the “European premiere” right before it started … had my trip to Baron’s Court been a dream? The front of house man (perhaps Peter Bull, artistic director?) insisted that it was the “full” version (some songs had been cut from the other?), and the website itself says this is the “European professional premiere,” which, well, I don’t know what to say, but I don’t really feel like it’s reasonable to call this the European premiere of the show given that it was really no more “fully” produced than the other one was, though this was decidedly actually the version that (more closely) matched the original ’95 NY Fringe Festival, as Christopher Gattelli is given credit as the director. This means that watching them both, I got to see this version as being what the director’s vision of the show was, as opposed to the Tom Murphy/Imperial Productions’ version, and I do seem to remember hearing at least one song I hadn’t in the first show.
Right. Review. Synopsis? Speech impaired wanna-be FBI agent, Clarice Starling (Tory Ross), is asked by irritating FBI man Crawford (Tim McArthur) to interview terrifying imprisoned serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Miles Western) in order to help draw out clues that might help catch current serial killer, Buffalo Bill (Fabian Hartwell). As she grows closer to Hannibal and closer to finding Bill, the question becomes: will she arrive in time to save latest prisoner, Catherine (Catherine Millsom), or will Lecter … or Bill … get Clarice first?
Now, this all sounds like it would be quite grim, but with cheery little songs like “I Wanna Size 14” (Buffalo Bill’s ideal girl) and “If I Could Smell Her Cunt” (Lecter’s paean to feeling human again), almost-tap dancing lambs (they clacked their little hooves together, which was good enough) and hit you with a two-by-four foreshadowing (the missing pen, the deaths’ head moths), it’s clear through and through that this is meant to be funny, and the occasional gory or grim bits are just Guignol ha ha’s (except for the pictures on the walls of Crawford’s office, I could really have lived without those).
The cast itself was good – the nice singing voices I now practically take for granted in London theater (crazy to think this was a “fringe” production given the professionalism of the cast – hard to understand why any of them were on “the small stage,”), good line delivery, etc. Tory Ross had a nice dry touch to her Agent Star that I really enjoyed, and Shakella Dedi as Starr’s best buddy Ardelia Mapp had a great scene-stealing moment when she ripped off her workout clothes to reveal a blue sparkly mini-dress that she worked within an inch of her life. Pins and pipes – can’t wait to see Dedi take a bigger role in the future, as she’s loaded with talent.
And yet, and yet. While I enjoyed the use of an all-lamb Greek Chorus, especially all Mikado-ized for Starr’s “telling it MY way” bit, I couldn’t help but compare this to the other production and find it lacking. Western may have performed Lecter as requested, as a one-dimensional nutjob, but I far preferred Tom Murphy’s better-rounded creep, who actually seemed like someone who COULD gain Clarice’s trust … before making her eat her tongue. And I missed the heavier development of both the lesbian subtext and sexual harassment of the Baron’s Court version, not to mention the tap-dancing corpse and the overplaying of the “high colonic appointment card.” So while Above the Stag produced a show I’d say would be a fun night out, it just didn’t hit the highs of the Baron’s Court version, which I considered unmissable. But, you know, I also had the hots for BC’s Buffalo Bill, Jame Gumb, and while Fabian Hartwell did do a nice job of tucking his junk and even wrote “Fuck me” on his abdomen, it was no comparison to the sight of all that twinkling body jewelry Jame put on display when he whipped off his kimono.
But I digress. This is certainly a fun and silly night out and well-priced at £15 quid a ticket, but with the other version so fresh in my mind I can’t as enthusiastically recommend it.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, January 29th, 2010. Silence runs through February 28th and is already almost completely sold out: buy your tickets today if you’re the least bit interested.)
*Credits to the director for actually using a Safeway shopping bag, a nice touch of American authenticity that I and my two American friends appreciated. However, someone needs to be reminded that, when an American spells the letter H, it is pronounced “Aitch.” “H”aitch is strictly for Englishers – a small niggle in a nearly perfectly American accented production.