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SILENCE! THE MUSICAL, BUA’s “Summer Camp” offering at Alleyway is like THE BOOK OF MORMON, only much raunchier.

THE BASICS: SILENCE! THE MUSICAL which started as just songs by brothers Jon and Al Kaplan thrown up on the internet, with book added later by Hunter Bell, is a 2005 musical sendup of the 1991 Academy Award winning film “The Silence of the Lambs.” Presented by Buffalo United Artists, directed by Todd Warfield, it opened on July 7 and runs through July 29, Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 7 at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (886-9239). Age limit 18+ (language, sexually explicit content, nudity). Runtime: under two hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: To describe (or calibrate) this show, I would ask you to think of both the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” and the (superior, in my opinion) musical THE BOOK OF MORMON. Quite simply, SILENCE! THE MUSICAL with 17 numbers reprises all of the memorable scenes from the movie including the FBI’s Jack Crawford’s recruitment of young agent Clarice Starling, her meetings with the psychopathic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the abduction of Size 14 Catherine Martin by Buffalo Bill, and Bill’s ultimate showdown with Agent Starling. Some of the humor comes from the self-awareness of that ultimate absurdity of musicals that “in real life” people don’t suddenly break into song. Certainly not tough FBI agents and psychopathic serial killers. But they do here. And some of the humor, as in MORMON, comes from the cognitive dissonance set up by content that seems more “inappropriate” than ever considering the serious subject involved. And, as in MORMON, there are many sendups of various “Broadway” musical and dance styles (including a Bob Fosse tribute). And, some of the humor is simply good old fashioned “OMG did they really say what I think they just said? I’m so glad I didn’t bring my mother to this.” (MORMON liked the word “clit” while SILENCE! gets a lot of mileage out of another female four-letter c-word.) And, as one would hope, there’s a lot of traditional, farcical NOISES OFF type humor, with deliberate screw-ups involving costumes, wigs, scenery, and props. I know it all sounds crazy, but it works.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: As mentioned, the story closely follows the plot of the movie “The Silence of the Lambs.” If you are the one person on the planet who hasn’t seen it, rent it before you go, or maybe rent it again because the more you know about the movie (and other movies starring Jodi Foster) the more you’ll get many of the jokes in the musical.

Without a doubt, everyone involved poured his or her heart into this production, including those wonderful physical comediennes Maria Droz as the speech impeded “Clarish Shtarling” and Charmagne Chi as both Catherine Martin (the girl in the well) as well as Catherine’s mother, Senator Martin, and a utility lamb to boot. Some of the costume changes in this musical are screwed up on purpose for comic effect but the lightning fast change of Catherine to her mother is pretty damn stunning. Jimmy Janowski plays Hannibal Lecter and Michael Seitz plays a full-frontal Buffalo Bill. Eric Rawski fills multiple roles including Jack Crawford, Papa Starling (who appears in dreams to encourage Clarice) and, yes, another utility lamb. Adam Hayes plays Dr. Chilton, the evil criminal psychologist (and a lamb). Michael Blasdell, better known locally in drag as Bebe Bvlgari, plays several roles, while Jeremy Catania and (Ms.) Sam Crystal play lambs. Musical Direction comes from Chuck Basil.

It’s difficult to rate SILENCE! THE MUSICAL because, honestly, this a not a high caliber vehicle. Unlike THE BOOK OF MORMON’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone (who honed their skills with multiple seasons of “South Park”) and Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q”), unfortunately the Kaplan brothers and Hunter Bell are simply not that experienced.

Another problem involves Hannibal Lecter. His role, although iconic, isn’t the central focus of the movie. In fact, he’s on screen for a total of only 15 minutes. This led to some controversy when Sir Anthony Hopkins won the Academy Award for Best Actor and, since the musical follows in lock-step, Lecter isn’t the focus here either. After “Summer Camp 2016” BETTY AND JOAN: THE FINAL CURTAIN (Christopher Standart as Betty Davis and Jimmy Janowski as Joan Crawford) and then last year’s CLEOPATRA (Jimmy Janowski in the title role) this year’s “Summer Camp” felt like “Janowski-lite.” Janowski is the only actor in Buffalo who always gets entrance applause, and he did here, too, but it’s really not his show. Of course, that opened up opportunities for others.

Last year I wrote that someday we’ll see Maria Droz in a leading lady role. Well, I wasn’t thinking of Clarice Starling when I wrote that, but it’s a step in the right direction.

So, as mentioned, go to SILENCE! THE MUSICAL because it’s pretty trashy. It’s raunchy, too, if you needed another reason. And it’s starring some really great Buffalo comic talent, which is probably the best reason of all to go. It’s “Summer Camp” so if the genre/content are up your twisted little alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

Photos by Cheryl Gorski

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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