For 20 minutes, Silence! The Musical is the funniest musical ever written. The delirious and relentless parody of the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs coasts by on its plethora of references to indelible Academy Award-winning feature along with gently poking fun at Jodie Foster and company, conjuring up a fair share of belly laughs, including a moment featuring the most disgusting and screamingly funny usage of silly string imaginable, before completely running out of gas. After that, the evening commits the worst crime imaginable for comedy: failing to make the audience laugh.
The problem is less the fault of book writer Hunter Bell and more due to the nature of direct parody: in and of itself, it really only is capable of provoking laughter for as long as the audience is interested in seeing something be made fun of. Horror films in general make for excellent parodic fodder, as Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein proved, but Silence! has no other targets than the one film, and thus wears more than thin by the time the 95-minute show is over. Successful works that only parody one film (like Airplane!, which parodies the mostly forgotten 1957 film Zero Hour) achieve said success because they have their own jokes beyond their ability to reference the work in question. Silence!, however, is an hour and a half of endless references to one film, and The Silence of the Lambs, iron-solid work of cinema that it is, doesn’t really have much to make fun of beyond Jodie Foster’s inability to say the “s” sound and the fact that some of its plotting stretches credibility. There are some three-base jokes, but there’s also a song about a desire to experience a certain part of Clarice’s anatomy in an olfactory manner (okay, the song is called “If I Could Smell Her Cunt”) in which the joke is that it is a crude parody of an I Want song and goes on for about seven hundred choruses—no, it is not funny. As a whole, Silence! would be better suited as an uncommonly well-wrought SNL sketch than a full evening of musical comedy.
If you’re a hardcore Silence of the Lambs fan, you might still be interested in seeing Silence!, in which case you will be pleased to know that the consistently high quality Ray of Light Theatre has given the show a high-energy production that embraces its ramshackle quality and uses it to full effect. Anne Norland’s wide-eyed, lispy Jodie Foster impression is very charming, and Brian Watson looks and sounds eerily like Anthony Hopkins. The rest of the cast wouldn’t exactly earn the term of great actors, but many of them can sing quite well and they’re having so much fun that it hardly matters.
Silence! lives up to every ounce of its potential. Unfortunately, because of its frustratingly narrow premise, that potential is almost nonexistent. There are worse ways to spend an evening in the city, but those expecting a laugh riot will inevitably go home disappointed.
Silence! The Musical plays in San Francisco at the Victoria theatre through April 1. Tickets and information available here.