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Review: 'Silence! The Musical' is solid and silly, also not for the faint of heart

TAMPA — Silence! The Musical, the unauthorized parody of The Silence of the Lambs, which opened last weekend, will almost certainly be Jobsite Theater's splashiest show of the season, and its most controversial.

This inventive take, with music and lyrics by Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan, satirizes the movie based on book about a serial killer who makes dresses out of human skin. Advertising for this production, directed by Jobsite artistic director David Jenkins, describes itself as being for mature audiences, even warning the squeamish with an additional sign in the lobby of the Jaeb Theater.

The implication is clear. Last chance. Enter at your own risk.

Patrons on Sunday were happy to do so, entering the cabaret-style theater with popcorn and beverages. Jobsite got a major assist from the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, which agreed to handle marketing costs and host this production at the Jaeb instead of Jobsite's usual home in the smaller Shimberg Playhouse.

The result may come down to a taste test.

Members of the World War II generation, who might have found The Pajama Game racy, will not have words for this one and could well stay away. On the other hand, several of my younger co-workers are eager to learn more about Silence. At the same time, since a lot of the feel-good elements found in the best musicals are present here. That contrast shows up in the first song by Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the title of which we can't even print in this newspaper. But Jonathan Harrison, who plays Lecter, has a gorgeous tenor voice. So there you go.

The chorus of lambs who sing through the action present another contrast. At first they are a clever joke threatening to become tiresome. After 10 minutes, the novelty of this story being narrated by dancing lambs gives way to "okay, we get it."

Yet the same chorus animates both the action and humor through smart choreography by Alison Burns, supplies strong choral singing and includes a standout vocal performance by Caitlin Greene (Catherine Dies Today). They are the bone marrow of the show.

Another lamb, Heather Kreuger, shows the depth of this cast in doubling and tripling as the kidnapped Catherine Martin and her mother, Sen. Martin.

As Clarice Starling, Amy Gray is perhaps the show's funniest performance. As the unsmiling "straight man" (or straight woman, in this case), she is the butt of blatant sexual harassment by everyone from FBI colleagues to prisoners, discredited by peers and tormented by Lecter, the only one who seems to understand her — and somehow, that's all funny.

She also does a mean Jodie Foster impersonation throughout.

Harrison doesn't get a lot of time on stage as Lecter. Anthony Hopkins only got only 16 minutes on screen as Lecter in the movie. That performance is, as Jenkins recently said of the movie, "part of our cultural memory," and is surely difficult to follow.

Still, Harrison's Lecter seems more flat than menacing. For some reason, he has chosen to rely on his eyes and face to convey most of his expression. That is understandable when you're straight-jacketed, but most of the time he is not.

However, there is that voice, and Harrison does ratchet the character to life during the songs.

A telling segment occurs near the end of the show, after which most of the long-running jokes have been told and retold, yet the high-stakes rescue attempt has not been resolved. This is the bulk of time spent in Buffalo Bill's lair and includes his song Put the F------ Lotion in the Basket.

It was during this phase it occurred to me that the show is doing exactly what it intends to do, and the result is coming awfully close to the gag reflex. (Spencer Meyers is perfectly repulsive as Bill, and like everything about this show, I mean that as a compliment.)

Then lambs come out to reprise the theme song, and it's over. Whether you walk away delighted or relieved — and there's a case to be made either way — depends on your tastes and, possibly, your demographic.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

Silence! The Musical

The show, 90 minutes with no intermission, runs through Nov. 15 at the Jaeb Theater at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $29.50. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

Review: 'Silence! The Musical' is solid and silly, also not for the faint of heart 10/19/15 [Last modified: Monday, October 19, 2015 7:07pm]
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