These days, just about anything is ripe for parody. But The Silence of the Lambs?
The Oscar-winning psychological horror/thriller from 1991, which recounts novice FBI agent Clarice Starling’s pursuit of a serial killer who skins his victims’ bodies, might seem an unlikely source for a musical comedy. But Silence! the Musical follows in a tradition of comedic musical mayhem presented at Trustus Theatre just in time for Halloween. Previous seasons have included productions of Evil Dead: The Musical and The Rocky Horror Show.
Musical director Randy Moore notes that rather than the shock of gore and violence found in Evil Dead — for which he was also musical director — it’s the campy tone, decidedly R-rated lyrics, and the surprise of “How did they get away with that?” that gives Silence! its unique appeal.
“When you go back and watch that movie after all these years,” he says, “it in itself is very campy.”
Director Jonathan Monk agrees, describing how Anthony Hopkins, as Hannibal Lecter, the incarcerated cannibal who aids Clarice in her case “is scene-chewing like nobody has a right to. The performances [in the film] are so theatrical, and Hopkins is so big, that you almost get no subtext.”
In other words, it’s a prime target for parody, which also conveniently bypasses the need for any permission or authorization.
Still, Monk believes the script retains the movie’s essential dramatic tension, including the Clarice-Hannibal connection.
“The nature of parody is to exaggerate what’s already there,” he says.
In this case, one such instance is a chorus of singing lambs, which embody the title’s reference to trauma from Clarice’s childhood. The script for the 2005 send-up is almost line for line taken from the original, Monk reports, and the music grabs some of film composer Howard Shore’s melodic themes. The only exception is Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” to which one victim in the movie listens on the radio — here, it becomes “Armenian Girl.”
Moore will play piano live, with his “right hand” Erin Bain on electronic keyboard, creating the synthesized sounds of other instruments.
“For these ominous scenes where we’re trying to create some danger and [a sense of] lurking and impending doom, we’re tweaking the score, and adding in French horn or oboe,” Moore explains. “In one scene, the police raid the wrong house. To me, it’s a Keystone Cops-type scene, so we’re doing a piccolo effect in that, using different patches with the keyboard to augment the score, and make it a little bit meatier than it’s written.”
Yet, he continues, “as thin a score as [the original arrangement] is, there’s really some meat behind it. There’s one song, ‘Quid Pro Quo,’ that’s actually a back-and-forth between Lecter (Hunter Boyle) and Clarice (Kayla Machado), where he says, ‘I’ll give you some information, if you give me a little bit’ — and [composers Jon and Al Kaplan] wrote it as a tango.”
Vocally, Moore says, “the score is not easy. It’s got some really difficult harmonies. It changes keys almost every five or six measures, and there are different time signatures.” The result “builds up this ominous feeling, and then it bashes though it with the comedy.”
“There’s a [musical theme] that runs throughout the show that centers around Lecter,” he adds, “after he has this beautiful song — and we can’t print the title of the song. But that theme keeps popping up throughout the show whenever he’s around, and you keep thinking of that. The lyrics of that song you can’t say in public, but it’s written as this beautiful torch song/ballad. So they use the music to offset the harshness of a term that’s used in the song. So you get caught up in the music hopefully, and it softens the vulgarity.”
Monk finds similarities with the humor of the Naked Gun and Airplane film series, as well as late-night performances of plays like Psycho Beach Party at Trustus in the 1990s.
“There were things I’d never seen done on stage before,” Monk says. “It seemed so risky, and alive. I’m really glad this show has that spirit.”
What: Silence! the Musical
Where: Trustus Theatre, 520 Lady St.
When: Oct. 5-Nov. 3
Price: $35 ($30 matinee; $25 military, seniors and students)
More: 803-254-9732, trustus.org