Of course a musical based on The Silence of the Lambs is, at the very least, R-rated.
How could material about Hannibal Lecter, a character so notorious he has his own Halloween mask, plus an unspeakable serial killer named Buffalo Bill not be "for mature audiences"?
Actually, the movie's subject matter, while grisly enough, is not the reason for the cautionary note in advertisements for Silence! The Musical — The Unauthorized Parody of the Silence of the Lambs, as is Jobsite Theater's production opening this weekend?
Four of the song titles are unprintable, and most of the others deal with extremely adult themes. That said, the folks at Jobsite say the show is more hilarious than horrifying, one that lampoons our darkest fears.
"It's a parody, extraordinarily silly, like a cartoon," said David Jenkins, Jobsite's artistic director, who is directing Silence! " Speaking of cartoons, it's like thinking of this as a South Park musical mockery of the movie."
The production is getting a major boost from the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, which is hosting Silence! in the Jaeb Theater. The cafe-style Jaeb has 312 seats, more than three times the number usually available in the adjacent Shimberg Playhouse, where Jobsite, the Straz's resident company, normally performs.
Doing the show under the Straz financial umbrella also means more advertising, which helped draw patrons to last year's production of Return to the Forbidden Planet. While that show didn't quite cover expenses, it's a risk worth taking again, said Judy Lisi, the Straz's president and chief executive officer.
Though a different species of musical from Broadway musicals at the Straz such as A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (Oct. 20-25) or Disney's The Lion King (Jan. 20-Feb. 14), Silence! addresses a long-term goal of attracting younger audiences.
"We try to bring programming that will attract different sectors of our community," said Lisi. "Not one thing is for everyone."
Silence! is for people who are ready for laugh, comparable to The Book of Mormon, said Jonathan Harrison, who plays Hannibal Lecter.
Harrison, 48, is a graduate of Boca Ciega High and the son of a minister formerly at Pasadena Community Church. He was a regular in the theater company housed at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, as the Straz was known before 2009, and has sung with multiple incarnations of Forever Plaid, the nostalgic musical review. Harrison also had the lead role in Return to the Forbidden Planet.
He acknowledges some of the lyrics in Silence! went against his religious upbringing.
"I was a little squeamish," Harrison said. "But the more you do it, the more desensitized you get... It's in-your-face, filthy fun. To take a movie like that and a grim story and turn it into a parody is kind of brilliant."
The show played Off-Broadway in 2005, winning Outstanding Musical at the New York International Fringe Festival the same year. Much of the plot and dialogue will be familiar to anyone saw the 1991 movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.
A chorus of floppy-eared lambs, who narrate the action, will not.
Nor did the movie characters get to express so much feeling. Lecter has a few songs, such as one about longing for a bigger prison cell. Buffalo Bill also enjoys a more expansive role, including a number about his extremely unusual fetish, Are You About a Size 14?
A couple of the songs take aim at lisp, such as It's Agent Shtarling and Thish Ish It. From time to time Amy Gray, who plays Clarice Starling, has entertained other cast members with a killer impression of Foster in the role.
Gray recently moved to Colorado after living in Tampa 16 years. She drove back cross-country with Tucker, her border collie mix, when she got a chance to play the role.
Gray enjoys the "weird chemistry" between Clarice and Lecter.
"She is drawn to him, and he is drawn to find out what makes her tick," said Gray. "But it's done in such a tongue-in-cheek manner."
Instead of the audience being scared, Gray said, "It's going to be more like, 'Oh my god, he said that? What is she going to say?'"
Jobsite is one of only three theaters in the country who have the rights to put on the musical this year, said Jenkins, the director.
The music is a big draw, he said, something that should pack in as many people into the Jaeb in a weekend as would normally take a month in the Shimberg.
"It's sensational and so clever," Jenkins said of the songs and the structure of the musical itself. People still quote lines from The Silence of the Lambs, he said, whether they have seen the movie or not.
"We were able to take something we consider a holiday, Halloween, and make it something not gory, not to terrify people," Jenkins said. "It's super accessible, and very much in our cultural memory."
Contact Andrew Meacham at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.