The Austin Chronicle

Silence! The Musical

Reviewed by Stacy Alexander Smith, July 4, 2014, Arts

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 512/474-7886
Through July 13
Running time: 2 hr.

Taking a cue from Master Pancake Theater, which in turn was inspired by Mystery Science Theater 3000, Doctuh Mistuh's Silence! The Musical extricates laughs from a hitherto distinctly unfunny, serious film. However, while the TV show and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema series target the unequivocally bad – hokey gems like Roadhouse and Devil DollSilence! lampoons a film that garnered several Academy Awards.

In 1991's The Silence of the Lambs, Yale alumna Jodie Foster assumed the lead role of FBI agent Clarice Starling, and onetime Royal National Theatre company member Anthony Hopkins played his most famous role as serial killer Hannibal Lecter – in other words, this is hallowed ground, dramawise. And yet, watching the film many years later, one has to admit that it hasn't aged well, and despite the brilliant performances by the lead actors, the material seems a bit heavy-handed.

Kudos, then, to Theatre Mogul, which realized the comic potential of a send-up and debuted it at the New York Fringe Festival in 2005, and to Doctuh Mistuh's Michael McKelvey, who apparently stopped at nothing to obtain the rights to produce it in Austin. And, man, is Austin glad! Six nights into the run, audience members rose to their feet in a unified cheer of approval at show's end – which wasn't surprising after two hours of nearly nonstop laughter.

Fresh from her Austin Critics Table win for In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, Amy Downing imbues her hickish Clarice with just the right amount of West Virginia chutzpah, and Huck Huckaby is equally well-cast as the world's most renowned flesh-eating fan of Marcus Aurelius. Without a doubt, David Ponton (as Buffalo Bill) delivers a scene-stealing performance during the musical number "Put the Fucking Lotion in the Basket." With his bleached mullet and studded belt, Ponton turns the act of self-manicure into an irreverent, perverse delight. Playing a close second fiddle to Ponton, the hulking figure of Matt Connelly (Papa Starling) emerges from an aerosol fog wearing child-sized angel wings, and hilarity ensues.

The singers and dancers produce solid ensemble work, and although they are certainly ridiculous in lamb ears and hooves, the absurdity of it is clearly intentional. The full band is a nice touch, but it is neither hidden nor in full view, and it is unclear why – save for the sake of convenience.

After watching the previews on YouTube, I did not expect to like this as much as I did. Indeed, this is why there is no substitute for theatre. Only by experiencing a live performance will an observer be privy to the powerful contagion of enthusiasm, as spread by a deliriously engaged audience.

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