'Silence! The Musical': Hannibal the Cannibal sings off-Broadway

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The title "Silence! The Musical" is strange and funny enough. When you discover which silence this offbeat piece is about, that's when the truly strange and funny come into focus.

This is a parody of "Silence of the Lambs." Yes, a musical about Hannibal the Cannibal. What could be funnier?

Sure, it has a "Springtime for Hitler" supposition to it and there are moments where it must -- to remain true to the story -- be offensive, ugly and vulgar. Any musical that includes a song titled "If I Could Smell Her C***" is going to outrage some. And, that number has a dance sequence acting out the title.

For those who get past that, it's a very funny and exceptionally well-done piece with terrific talent. David Garrison is creepily on target as Hannibal, the cannibalistic psychiatrist. His TV credits include "Married ... With Children" "L.A. Law" and "The West Wing," he was nominated for a Tony for "Ukraine," and was also in "Wicked" and "Titanic."

Jenn Harris, who has done more off-Broadway and some TV, is hilarious as a lisping, deadpan Clarice Starling, the young FBI agent in a purposefully awful wig.

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The story is the same as the 1991 film. An agent about to graduate, Starling is given the sure-to-fail task of interviewing a psychopathic former psychiatrist who may be able to help the FBI track down a serial killer.

Part of the fun of this musical is its bare-bones nature. It's now at the 9th Space Theater at P.S. 122, a former elementary school in the East Village. It has the charm of one of the city's old public schools, with wooden banisters worn to a silky texture. This school dates to 1894 and the production is in a true black box space.

The players come out wearing lamb ears and limbs, and make clicking sounds when they hit the stage. When air travel is suggested, Dr. Chilton ( Harry Bouvy) walks across the stage carrying a paper airplane. When it's raining, the players spray mist bottles. It's clever and shows how much can be done on a limited budget.

As my theater mate points out, this is not for everyone. When it opened in July at Theatre 80, I wrongly thought it would be gone within a couple of weeks -- once the cast ran through family and friends. It closed there in September and reopened in the former schoolhouse in October, along the way developing a cult following.

Could it make it to Broadway? Before "Book of Mormon," the answer would have been an emphatic "no," and it's still incredibly unlikely. But musicals about serial killers doing unspeakable things to their victims have been hits before; just think of  "Sweeney Todd." Hundreds of shows have moved uptown, so it's not unthinkable -- though a chunk of its charm is seeing it in a black box in the East Village.
Photo/Video credit: Carol Rosegg