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"Silence! The Musical" Is One of the Funniest Shows of the Year

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When Thomas Harris wrote his classic thriller The Silence of The Lambs, I don't imagine he ever pictured a troupe of tap-dancing lambs. As Jonathan Demme and Anthony Hopkins collected their Oscars for the film version, it's doubtful they thought about the story's main characters doing a tango, complete with the glass partition between them held up as they dance. And yet here we are, decades later, presented with Silence! The Musical. And it's a good thing, too, because it's bloody hilarious.

New FBI agent Clarice Starling (Christine Lakin) has been sent to speak to the institutionalized and murderous ex-shrink Hannibal Lecter (Davis Gaines) to see if he has any insight into the whereabouts of a current serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill." He agrees upon the condition that he'll provide his info if she reveals details about herself and her previous life. Meanwhile the serial killer, Jaime Gumb (Stephen Bienskie), has captured his next prospective victim, the daughter of a senator. Clarice might be able to save the young woman, if only everyone around her, including the chorus of lambs, would just stop singing.

Lakin is superb as Starling, in every possible respect. Her take on Jodie Foster's performance, from the lisp which turns every "s" into "sh" to the all-business demeanor, is genuinely inspired. Add to that impressive singing and dancing chops and masterful comic timing, and you have one of the best comedic performances of the year. Gaines neither sounds nor looks much like Hopkins, but his version of Hannibal the Cannibal succeeds on its own merits, particularly his bravura delivery of the profane romantic ballad "If I Could Smell Her Cunt."

Bienskie, one of the two veterans of the New York production, was surprisingly lackluster as Gumb, though this partly may have been due to a possible miking issue on press night, which caused a good deal of his dialogue to be less audible. Jeff Skowron shines as the creepy Dr. Childer and delivers a energetic and show-stopping rendition of "The Right Guide." Jeff Hiller, the other NY veteran, is terrific in multiple roles, from the masturbating loon Miggs to various cops and finally young Clarice herself, and he steals the show with gleeful finesse. LaToya London and Kathy Deitch each shine brightly in their respective solo vocal spotlights.

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Christopher Gattelli's direction and choreography are consistently inventive, from an endless descent down the same set of three stairs turning into something from Looney Tunes to his fluid use of moving set pieces to create a labyrinthine feel for the basement finale between Clarice and Gumb. Hunter Bell's book is witty and sharply attuned to the movie's details--the bit where Clarice declares "You see a lot, doctor," only to be followed by Lecter noticing the most obvious things, is choice. Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan's music and lyrics are tuneful and clever, from the title number to the appropriately cocky "We're Going In." The musicians do a fine job, though occasionally the volume drowns out the singing. Overall, however, this production is outstanding and deserves to be a big hit.

"Silence! The Musical" plays at the Hayworth Theatre indefinitely. Tickets are available online.