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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Can a production recapture its magic after it's been away for six years? Will the jokes and the tone and the performances feel the same after so much time has passed?
Those are questions for Silence! The Musical, an unauthorized parody of the horror film The Silence of the Lambs. Currently at Theatre 80 (on St Mark's Place), the show made a splash at the New York Fringe Festival in 2005, skewering FBI agent Clarice Starling's attempt to capture a serial killer with the help of Hannibal Lecter, an imprisoned cannibal genius. The winking book by Hunter Bell ([title of show]) and the gleefully profane songs by Jon and Al Kaplan turned horrifying scenes of kidnapping, torture, and psychological terror into dizzy spoofs. Christopher Gattelli's direction and choreography were equally cheeky, letting chorus members dressed as lambs perform razzle-dazzle dances. And though critics were mixed on the show---Variety's David Rooney said it "scored steadier laughs than expected" but "could stand further snap and polish"---audiences devoured it like a nice chianti. By the end of its sold-out Fringe run, it seemed poised for a full New York production.
That almost happened in 2007, but a planned Off Broadway run was canceled after funding fell through. However, Gattelli, who went on to choreograph Broadway shows like <i>South Pacific</i>, stayed committed to Clarice. He helmed a popular London production of <i>Silence!</i> last year, and when another opportunity arose to bring the show Off Broadway, he quickly signed on.
So did most of the 2005 cast, including performers like Deidre Goodwin and Jeff Hiller, who have landed major Broadway, TV, and film roles since their cannibal summer. That's ideal, because while there are some new elements in the show, including a Kabuki-style visit to Clarice's past, much of it recreates the Fringe original.
According to Gattelli, falling back into the groove has been surprisingly easy. "[The cast] would make fun of me because I've been wanting to do this for long that I didn't forget a thing," he says. "I would say things like, 'You actually crossed downstage there in 2005,' and they'd laugh."
It wasn't just him, however. He adds, "[The actors] would automatically do things after six years. It was uncanny. Those little things you do that make your show easier during rehearsals---'Okay, I've got to put my hand here, for when you cross to me here'---they were just doing automatically. It was unbelievable that it was still in their bodies."
Gattelli is not changing the aesthetic of the original production. Thre's still a low-tech spirit, with four panels supplying most of the set and ViewMaster toys representing night vision goggles. That's partly because the budget isn't huge and partly because the company is sharing its space with another production, so it can't install a complex set. But that approach also gives the musical a point of view.
"It's us choosing that this is a theatre troupe that got together, wrote this musical, bought their own props, threw it in a van, and drove up to New York," Gattelli explains. "That sensibility helps all of our heads. The audience doesn't even necessarily need to know that, but that's for our sensibility about where the show lies and what's too big or what's too much."
Of course, there are some places where Gattelli does want to splurge. Despite budget constraints, for instance, he has kept a complex pas de deux that's performed behind the primary cast during an intense (and R-rated) scene. That has meant hiring trained dancers, but Gattelli feels the moment provides crucial weight. He says, "As funny as this show is, or we like to think it is, we still believe it's very artful, and that's what I love about it. You can think, 'Oh, they're just gonna do [dirty] jokes,' but then you have a pas de deux while they're singing 'c**t," and it looks stunning."
He adds, "That's been my basis for the entire show, to still be artful. Hopefully, people find it creative and exciting as well as balls-to-the-wall funny.
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor