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BWW Review: Jobsite Theater's Hilarious, Proudly Profane SILENCE! THE MUSICAL at the Jaeb

February 14, 1991, was a lovely Valentine's Day in Los Angeles. I had bought tickets to a new movie opening in Century City that night...The Silence of the Lambs. My father had been raving about the Thomas Harris novel for a couple of years, and my sister had been so scared reading it that she had to finish it crouched in a closet, hiding in the dark with nothing but a flashlight. I hadn't read the book yet, but I was about to experience the movie. To say that it would leave an indelible mark on me that night is an understatement; it would become so meaningful that, twenty-four years later, I would even recall the trailers that played before the film (Scenes from a Mall, which made the audience groan, and T2: Judgment Day, which made them cheer). And then the feature started. This wasn't horror; this was something else. Call it cool dread. The film got under my skin, and it's one of the few movies that I had to see again the very next day, taking more friends. It became an event.

I have seen The Silence of the Lambs so many times since then that I have literally lost count. It ranks up there with Psycho, Zodiac, Se7en and the little-known 10 Rillington Place as the greatest serial killer flick of all time, and now Jobsite Theater is presenting a hilarious "unauthorized parody" of it entitled SILENCE! THE MUSICAL, with music and lyrics by Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan and the book by [title of show's] Hunter Bell. SILENCE! was an off-Broadway staple, and now Jobsite is honored to be presenting the Southeastern premiere of it.

This is obviously a "drop everything and don't miss it" show for those like me who have seen The Silence of the Lambs and can quote it at will ("It rubs the lotion on its skin"..."That was goooood"...."You use Evyan skin cream, and sometimes you wear L'Air du Temps, but not today"..."Love the suit!"...and of course the most famous quote of all: "A census taker once tried to test me; I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti..."). However, if you have never watched The Silence of the Lambs, first of all, shame on you; secondly, you will be totally lost in SILENCE! THE MUSICAL and, for the most part, will have no idea why the audience is cackling here more than almost any other show. The joy of this SILENCE stems from our knowledge of the movie. If it is alien to you, then the audience's laughing at Spencer Meyers (as the serial killer Buffalo Bill) covering his face with his forearm when he realizes Agent Starling is onto him will have you scratching your head in confusion (you wouldn't know that it is a spot-on re-creation of Ted Levine's Jame Gumb).

But this really isn't a problem, is it? Who over sixteen hasn't seen The Silence of the Lambs?

In a strange kind of way, the whole experience reminded me of The Real Live Brady Bunch, a fun cult hit that I saw in Westwood in the early 1990's starring Jane Lynch: Your enjoyment of the show was in direct relation to your knowledge of the specific "Brady Bunch" episode being performed. The same applies here. If you loved Silence of the Lambs, you will love SILENCE! THE MUSICAL; if you didn't, or if the film meant nothing to you, then even with all of the great performances in this production, you probably won't. Simple as that.

I love The Silence of the Lambs, and, yes, I laughed constantly in SILENCE! THE MUSICAL. Is it the funniest musical I have seen? No, not at all, because then it would have to contend with The Producers, The Book of Mormon and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for that crown. (Unlike those other musical comedies, SILENCE! doesn't really have a heart underneath the guffaws; it slices and dices you with laughter, but there's nothing really beyond that, not that that's necessarily a bad thing.) But the show had moments that made me almost fall out of my chair laughing and, best of all, made me smile for the longest time as I wickedly recounted the scenes on the drive home. The musical parody about an Ed Gein-meets-Ted Bundy serial killer named Buffalo Bill, along with the iconic Hannibal the Cannibal, is deliciously sinful. SILENCE! is a show to tell your friends about (and you'll know beforehand if they'll get the jokes or if they won't), to spread the word, because the area hasn't seen anything like this. It's an event, a jaundiced hoot, and you have until November 15th to experience it.

There are so many great performances in Jobsite's SILENCE! Leading the pack is Spencer Meyers as the aforementioned Buffalo Bill, whose "Are You About a Size 14" and "I'd F*** Me" are highlights of the show. It's thrilling seeing an actor like Meyers go for broke and own every onstage moment. And his singing voice is simply spectacular. Meyers has always been strong in every show I've seen him in, but this is hands down some of his best work. It's a performance that ranks with the very finest of the year.

And yet there are so many other great turns. Amy Gray is astonishing as Clarice Starling, right down to her perfectly sustained over-exaggeration of Jodie Foster's speech impediment as Clarice (as displayed in the song "This Ish It"). Gray sings marvelously and fits the role perfectly. I like that the film's hidden lesbian undertones of Clarice's relationship with fellow agent-in-training Ardelia Mapp is overtly spotlighted in the stage musical. (Ardelia is played here by the very funny Caitlin Greene, who also portrays Barney, Lecter's guard, using her finger as a mustache.)

As the infamous Hannibal Lecter, Jonathan Harrison is entrancing and wonderfully unnerving. (Does he out-Lecter Anthony Hopkins? Of course not, but he comes close.) Harrison's duet with Gray's Clarice in "Quid Pro Quo" is beautifully accomplished with inspired choreography (thanks to choreographer Alison Burns). Best of all is Harrison's showstopper, "If I Could Smell Her C***," which must be seen to be believed. A loud ovation followed this bizarre, beautifully performed number. It was the song that happened to be stuck in my head as I left the theater, and I must say it is quite an odd tune, of all the musical numbers in the world, to have stuck in your head.

As both the doomed Catherine Martin and her mother, Senator Martin, Heather Krueger memorably inhabits both roles. The duet, "Put the F***ing Lotion in the Basket," with Catherine in Buffalo Bill's lair (along with a stuffed dog, Precious) and Meyers hovering over her with bucket in hand, is vividly, marvelously performed. And Senator Martin's song, "My Daughter is Catherine," is stunningly sung (Krueger's voice is in top form) and gives some heart to a show that proudly lacks heart.

Ryan Sturm has his moments as Dr. Chilton, but he seems to try too hard for laughs rather than just letting the humor happen. (Anthony Heald in the movie dripped with icky insincerity, and Sturm does capture some of this.) Jon VanMiddlesworth is a sturdy Jack Crawford and also funny as Clarice's dead dad (seen in flashbacks), "Papa Shtarling."

Most of the cast also appear as a Greek Chorus of lambs that haunt Clarice's psyche, and their opening number, "Silence!", as well as all of their ensemble work, showcases gorgeous harmonies. They sound just right throughout the show's brisk ninety minutes. Special mention must be made of Colleen Cherry (as Multiple Miggs and dozens of other characters), who constantly stands out with her Charles Manson eyes, and of the multi-talented Nick Hoop as Sgt. Pembry as well as a Young Clarice in a flashback (don't ask), which shows off his versatility and likability onstage.

Robert Jarosh's music direction is exceptional, and he leads the grand trio of musicians that also includes Woody Bond (on drums) and Tom Sivak. Brittany Reuther's costumes are hilarious (the lambs look like something out of a no-frills pre-school production of "Little Lamb, Have You Any Wool," which works here). Ryan Finzelber's lighting design is a blast but never gets in the way of the show, and Brian Smallheer's set works quite well (no matter where you sit, you always get a good look at the action). A video screen in the middle of the stage should work well and actually does when it features some Austin Powers-like silhouetted naughtiness. Unfortunately, the slides used with the names of the various locations in the show as well as other information (including the show's title) seemed blurry for some reason.

Director David Jenkins obviously had the time of his life guiding this production at the Jaeb. Nothing is sacred, some jokes hit their bull's-eye, some fall flat, but they just keep coming. It's a bad taste, giggly kill-fest, like Helter Skelter as written by the editors of The Onion, and Jenkins has made it the ultimate SILENCE! imaginable. There is a lot counting on this, and production-wise, Jenkins scores big.

Make sure to come early so you can relax to some interesting pre-show music, including classical versions of "Thriller" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart."

I wish the Jaeb had been ready for such a large audience on opening night. They had too few workers managing the bar, and the curtain was held until 8:20. People still entered the theater late due to the long line at the bar; since there is no intermission in SILENCE!, they were getting their goodies before the show and there were not enough staff members to help the drink-rush go smoothly. This is an issue that the fine folks at the Straz need to iron out.

Also, even though there was an "Explicit Material" sign rightfully posted in the theater, I believe one should have been included in the program as well, because the show is certainly not for the kiddos. (One elderly couple exited the theater early on, obviously offended by the material, and that's okay.) Unlike the gripping, Oscar-winning movie that definitely earned its R rating, this SILENCE! is an even harder R. It's one "I can't believe they just said that" kind of show. SILENCE! THE MUSICAL is edgy, campy, delightedly inappropriate and quite proud of its own vulgarity. It makes The Book of Mormon look like The Sound of Music.

SILENCE! THE MUSICAL runs until November 15th at the Jaeb Theater in the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, please call (813) 229-STAR (7827). By the way, this is a rare show where photography is encouraged during the musical numbers. Tag Jobsite by using #SilencetheMusical for a chance to win prizes. As usual, the photography must not use flash, and of course all electronic devices need to be silenced.

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From This Author Peter Nason