From its inception, Doctuh Mistuh Productions, brainchild of award-winning director Michael McKelvey, has been pushing the boundaries of what audiences should expect from musicals. They’ve brought such extreme visions as “Evil Dead: The Musical”, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”, and “Reefer Madness: The Musical”, each one taking audiences into crude, campy lands, and in the process bringing plenty of laughs along the way. With “Silence!: The Musical”, they’ve created what could be the most crude work to date, giving us the tale of Clarice Starling, and her search for an insane killer, with the help of the brilliant, but mad, psychiatrist Hannibal Lector. This isn’t the tale you’re used to however, since writing team Jon Kaplan, Al Kaplan, and Hunter Bell add in a healthy layer of cheesy goodness over the chills and thrills. The result is a delightful explosion of curse words, over-the-top characters, and songs that I can’t even mention the name of in this article without getting flagged, all linked with wall-to-wall laughs and some strong performances.
Huck Huckaby is one of those Austin treasures who, while doing consistent work, still hasn’t seemed to get the attention he deserves. If all is right with the Austin theatre scene, this play will be the springboard Huckaby needs to become one of Austin’s talked-about actors, because his performance as Hannibal Lector is truly one of the highlights of the piece. Huckaby brings a gravity to his performance, a sense of regality, even as he sings songs about Clarice’s private parts. He also carries the songs with aplomb, as his booming baritone demands the audience’s attention the moment he hits a note, and he injects such menace, and yet such intellect, into each line, which makes his humorous asides hit with that much more hilarious power.
From word one, we can see that Amy Downing has truly become encompassed in her performance. Whether it’s the bizarre, but gut-busting way she holds her face, her stance, or that always-awe-inspiring lisp, Downing has the character down pat, bringing the audience to laughs every time she says a line. She plays the role with an over-the-top toughness that would seem disingenuous or ring false from so many other actors, but here she plays it with such sincerity we can’t help but crack up. It also helps that she plays off the other actors so well, especially Huckaby’s Lector, with whom she shares a bizarre kinship.
Though the action most revolves around the duo of Lector and Clarice, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the phenomenal work being done by much of the supporting cast. Jose Villareal, alumnus of several other Doctuh Mistuh shows, proves that he’s one of Austin’s best character actors, stealing the show each time he happens to be on stage as Jack Crawford, and making me look forward to his performance in Archangel Productions’ upcoming production of “How to Succeed in Business” later this month. Also showing remarkable talent here is Matt Connelly, whose brief appearances as Clarice’s dad become some of the high points of the production. Perhaps best of the bunch for the smaller roles is David Ponton, who hits just the right camp level with his performance as Buffalo Bill, playing him with an energy and fire that helps differentiate his character from the frightening figure of the film. His featured song near the end of the piece may be one of the best musical numbers in the play, especially when we get a reprise come the play’s end.
“Silence!” once again finds Director Michael McKelvey in top form, helped once again but some clever choreography from the ever-amazing Madison Piner. It’s a fast-paced bit of musical camp, featuring some truly noteworthy performances from Huck Huckaby, Amy Downing, and David Ponton, and some of the funniest moments of the year. Please note, however, this may be the crudest thing Doctuh Mistuh has done yet, so be sure to leave the kids, and those easily offended, at home. It may not have the biggest budget, and it may be a bit too quick-moving for some, but in the end, “Silence!: The Musical” may be one of the most fun pieces I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this year.
“Silence! The Musical” is playing through July 13 at the Salvage Vanguard Theatre. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit doctuhmistuh.org.