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Local Arts

Theater review: ‘Silence! The Musical’ spins a classic film toward crass humor

I don’t want to lecter you, but if you like grossly goofy comedies, you’ll be doing yourself a fava to consider Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte’s “Silence! The Musical.” Did you smile and wince at the same time reading that sentence? You’re the target audience.

Cornball gags and jokes that make you gag proliferate in equal measure in this spoof of “The Silence of the Lambs,” which boils the Oscar-winning movie down to 90 minutes without an intermission. Writer Hunter Bell and composer-lyricists Jon and Al Kaplan pile crassness upon cleverness, sometimes in the same song, in their machine-gun approach to humor.

The show fits into a mini-tradition at ATC, which occasionally produces a musical that turns a horror film into song-and-dunce comedy. Musicals based on “Evil Dead” and “The Toxic Avenger” spring to mind, but there are key differences between those and “Silence!”

The others were pleasurable junk: There was nothing to deconstruct, and the adapters simply intensified their lunacy. “Silence” remains one of the greatest scary movies ever made, and it deserves to be mocked with equal skill. The broad laughs often score here, but the authors never try to work at the high level of the source material.

Also, the other spoofs relied on exaggerated violence, with silly severed limbs and rampaging monsters. This one mostly pushes sexual buttons: FBI agent Clarice Starling (Leslie Giles) delivers a filthily hilarious rant when denied credit for her abilities, and Hannibal Lecter (Rob Addison) sings a lilting paean to her private parts — funny the first time, wearying the second, as Addison struggled with the notes.

Clarice’s insecurities and Lecter’s urbane menace give the authors fodder from which to build comic characters, even if they don’t develop complex personalities; we learn that Clarice is gay, for instance, but only as a joke that doesn’t pay off. Yet Buffalo Bill (Jeremy DeCarlos), the serial killer who wants to make a suit from his victims’ skins, poses an insoluble problem. He remains a revolting goofball, and his songs — the crudest in the show — hammer us without effect.

Director Chip Decker keeps his actors popping up all over the simple set. Everyone except Clarice, Hannibal and Bill wears lambs’ ears, even when performing the nastiest of acts, perhaps to lend a certain weird innocence to the action. (How disgusting can lambs really be?)

Music director Zachary Tarlton’s five-piece band plays unobtrusively and shines in the few lyrical moments. Every once in a while, the Kaplans provide a melody that’s tantalizingly tender or satirically sweet, inspiring us to wonder what they could do on a project about which they felt deeply.

“Silence! The Musical”

When: Through Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Queens University’s Hadley Theater, 2132 Radcliffe Rd.

Tickets: $17.50-$50 ($8.75 students, teachers, military, Queens community).

Details: 704-342-2251 or atcharlotte.org.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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