Mix together a pound of ground lamb meat, a cup of fava beans, a splash of Chianti and some comedy seasonings, and what do you get?
“Silence! The Musical” is a riotous and often profane theatrical stew that sends up the Oscar-winning movie “The Silence of the Lambs.” Since opening in New York last year, the stage comedy has become a modest success and has run at two different off-Broadway spaces. Next week, the show will make its Los Angeles debut at the Hayworth Theatre.
The L.A. opening is particularly meaningful for the show’s songwriting brothers, Jon and Al Kaplan. The siblings live in Sherman Oaks and started writing songs for “Silence!” more than 10 years ago for what was then just an Internet lark. “We’d always been fascinated with the Buffalo Bill character,” recalled Jon Kaplan. (In the movie, Buffalo Bill is a serial killer who kidnaps and murders young women for their skin.)
The brothers said they ended up writing several songs — some of which contain the movie’s most graphic dialogue — which they then posted to a website. When the songs began garnering online attention, the Kaplans were approached by a producer to write a screenplay, but the project never came through. Theater producers in New York eventually asked them turn the material into a musical, which debuted at the New York Fringe Festival in 2005.
“Silence!,” featuring a book by Hunter Bell, uses a Greek chorus of lambs to tell the story of FBI rookie Clarice Starling and her attempt to hunt down Buffalo Bill with the aid of the murderously debonair Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The show includes numbers such as “Are You About a Size 14,” “Quid Pro Quo” and “I’d ... Me.”
Christopher Gattelli has staged “Silence!” in New York and London and is directing the L.A. production. “I think most people come in thinking it’s going to be just a parody or spoof, and then they see the talent on stage and the quality of the songs. I like to think it exceeds expectations,” he said.
Gattelli, who won a Tony Award for choreographing Disney’s “Newsies” on Broadway, said he has been working with the creative team to add new material for L.A., including some new numbers and minor characters. He said he also is working on a production of “Silence” that will launch soon in South Africa.
The Kaplan brothers said “Silence!” is an affectionate parody that is meant to communicate their love for the 1991 movie, which won five Oscars, including best picture and acting awards for Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. They estimated that they have seen the film (which is directed by Jonathan Demme and based on the Thomas Harris bestseller) at least 50 times.
More recently, the siblings have been working on a new slate of online parodies, including “Terminator 2: The Opera,” “Predator: The Musical” and “Schindler’s List: The Musical.” They said they are considering creating a stage musical that would spoof Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film career.
The brothers, who are in their mid-30s and hail from Staten Island, N.Y., studied film scoring at the University of Southern California. They said writing musical parodies pays very little. “It’s really a labor of love,” said Al Kaplan.
Stephen Bienskie was part of the original New York cast of “Silence!” and is reprising the role of Buffalo Bill in L.A. To play the serial killer, he channels the deeply disturbing voice of actor Ted Levine, who played the part in the movie. “It’s a vocal workout because it’s so deep,” Bienskie said.
The actor even performs a version of Buffalo Bill’s infamous “tuck” dance. (For non-"Silence” fans, the scene involves the creative hiding of the male genitalia.)
“We didn’t do the tuck in the original Fringe production,” recalled Bienskie. But for off-Broadway and L.A. too, audiences are treated to the dance. “We just said let’s go for it. It took awhile to get it right. Some audiences got to see more of me than they paid for.”