Well, here’s something I never thought I’d review: a parody musical.

While I don’t watch them that much, lack of money being a major factor, I do enjoy stage plays and musicals in particular. Maybe it has something to do with growing up with animated musical films and particularly the Disney Renaissance or the fact that two of the films I used to watch all the time as a kid were Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, which would also explain my love for Dame Julie Andrews. Musical parodies, however, are new territory for me as I tend to avoid them.

Parodies are hard to do due to the fact you have to both satirise and, if the original property is good, respect it. Parodying something runs the risk of insulting both it and it’s fans, especially when the thing you’re satirising is something as serious as Hannibal Lecter.

I’m gonna do a big piece on the Hannibal television series sometime in the near future, including a basic rundown of the franchise up to that point, so for now I’ll just say that I love the franchise, though it has its problems, and Silence of the Lambs is one of my all time favourite movies. Silence of the Lambs, one of the most famous films of all time, is a horror thriller noted as being the first, and to this day only, horror movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was dark, smart, terrifying, and brought the most famous fictional serial killer into the nightmares of the mainstream public. It also brought more women into the FBI with Quantico serving as a filming location. It’s a great film and I highly recommend it. So, how do you parody that? Like this:

Enter Silence! The Musical, a 2005 musical written by Jon and Al Kaplan as an unofficial parody of Silence of the Lambs in the time gap between the releases of Red Dragon and Hannibal Rising. Originally made as nine parody songs that retold the story released on the Internet in 2003, the songs became so popular that it was decided to turn them into a full fledged musical. Six more songs were written to fill the length of a musical and it premiered in New York, later returning as an Off Broadway show years later. The musical went on to receive four awards, including New York International Fringe Festival’s Outstanding Musical Award, and has had successful runs in New York, London, Tampa, LA, and now Chicago.

WARNING SPOILERS FOR SILENCE! THE MUSICAL…which is based on a nearly thirty year old book/movie anyway, but whatever.

The plot follows the basic lines as the film, a young FBI trainee named Clarice Starling (Here pronounced “Schtarling” due to the character’s lisp in this version) is sent by her boss, Jack Crawford, to interview the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer who’s been locked up in the local mental asylum for the past 8 years. Once there Lecter, intrigued by Clarice, sends her off with information that leads her on the hunt for Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who’s been targeting large women and skinning them. A ticking clock to catch him starts when the daughter of a senator is taken and it’s a race against time to save her while facing two evil men along the way. Which one is worse? That’s for you to decide.

The characters stay essentially the same, just with some characteristics either emphasized or diminished to make it funnier. Chilton is more of a sleaze, Clarice’s accent is more pronounced (along with the aforementioned lisp), Catherine Martin is a fat stereotype (I never really saw her as fat in the movie but okay) and the overweight news of the girls brought up more, Lecter deals more in physical attributes than mental though they are brought up and he’s not that great an artist (a nice way of saying they look like a perverted preschooler drew them) but he thinks he is, etc. etc.

Some characters are given characteristics that weren’t there to begin with for comedic effect such as Ardelia Mapp’s actions making it clear she has homosexual feeling for Clarice (something which was speculated on it the ‘Hannibal’ book due to their living situation), or that it’s implied that Crawford is in a sexual relationship with his male aide. While I hate that homosexuality is used as a joke , it’s better than the two just being there as Ardelia doesn’t do much outside of her one big scene in the movie (and a song) and Crawford being pretty much the same character if a little more jokey (the same could be said about a lot of the characters). As for Senator Martin, she’s pretty much the same as the film if a little more spacey than before and, like the others, willing act a little silly for the sake of comedy, but that’s par for the course I suppose.

Something that also annoys me is, like the film, the musical doesn’t make it clear that Buffalo Bill is not transgender he just thinks he is (it was in a deleted scene in the film). It’s actually more played up here and for those of you wondering if the ‘tucking penis between his legs thing’ is still there. It is, at the end of a song. He’s actually naked. Moving on. Barney is played by the same actress who played Ardelia who was also the only person of colour…not sure if that’s the joke or a diversity issue with the theatre so I’m not going to go into that here.

The characters all, to some extent, seem to be aware they’re part of a stage production. Though considering this is a parody, I’m not surprised. If there’s an actor who stands out, it’d have to be the guy playing Lecter. Dr. Lecter, in all his incarnations, is creepy, terrifying at times, unsettling, yet dignified and refined. While this version is somewhat crasser, he definitely nails everything else. There were times when I could swear he was looking right at me (Like he could smell the Fannibal in me). It was creepy.

I know pretty much nothing about music so anything I have to say about it needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but I like the music here. It’s not the greatest music I’ve ever heard, but the songs are good. My favourite song is one during Act 2 : Quid Pro Quo. The song is a duet between Clarice and Lecter during the scene where Clarice has presented the fake deal from Senator Martin. It emulates the back and forth the two had in the film, hence Quid Pro Quo, as each knows the other has information that they want and are willing to exchange what they have for what they want: Clarice to catch Buffalo Bill and save Catherine, and Lecter who finds Clarice intriguing and wants to know what’s in her head. It also highlights the sexual tension between the two that a later scene makes more explicit.

See? When I say it suggests sexual tension between Clarice and Lecter, everyone’s on board. But Will and Lecter doing the same thing? No, they hate each other or they’re just friends, but there’s certainly no sexual tension between them…note my sarcasm. Sorry, different topic that we’ll get into eventually.

At the time of this writing, Silence! The Musical has left Chicago, but if you can see it someday I do recommend it. It’s an affectionate poke of fun at a great movie which, while it has some flubs in logic for the sake of comedy (seriously, why would you stand there and wait for someone to ejaculate on you without your consent?), does stay true to the original story just dialing up the humour. It’s not my favourite sort of humour, give me black comedy any day, but it is worth a look. Check it out if you have the chance.

This’ll probably be the only non movie musical I review…at least until Last Murder Song comes to Chicago this October and that’s only because I can’t resist anything by Terrance Zdunich. What is it anyway? A movie? A play? A concert? I don’t know! WHAT?! I just know I’ll be going cause I love everything this guy does.

Next Week: A follow up to my Joker and Harley Quinn post.

(Photo via Ghostlight Records)