Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Silence! The Musical is every bit of what I might imagined it to be. With two song titles I don't wish to present in their entirety, it's no surprise the cast album was sold with an "Explicit" label. The show contains several insider's references to long running Broadway musicals. For example, Hannibal Lecter sports the number 24601 on his prison garb (Valjean's prisoner number in Les Misérables). All of them add a layer of humor to the piece, although they may get past less seasoned audience members. What this show does not have is a heart, which keeps me at a distance emotionally.
In recent years, Venice Theatre has carved out a reputation of doing some off-center shows at the Pinkerton and doing them very well. Examples are The Toxic Avenger, a mini-Sweeney Todd, and multiple incarnations of their almost legendary The Rocky Horror Show. Where productions at Kiwanis Theatre at Manatee Performing Arts Center and backstage at The Players Centre for the Performing Arts seem to get short shift, the production quality at Pinkerton is every bit as fine as what is on the main stage at Venice, often better. That would seem to be the case here.
Kari Solum, new to me, is our Clarice Starling, the only cast member not playing multiple roles. She channels Jodi Foster without overdoing it, always aware that this is a parody. Where does an actor go after a very well received Sweeney Todd? Well, Hannibal Lecter would seem a pretty obvious choice. Chris Caswell is properly menacing with just a dash of charm, even a tiny bit scary at a few moments, making me very much regret missing the aforementioned Stephen Sondheim oeuvre, even though I have found past tiny Sweeneys not to my taste. Charlie Kollar proves a chip off the block as Buffalo Bill and other ensemble roles. He is the son of two well-respected local performers, so he comes by his talent naturally. Everything about his performance is star quality. Andrea Keddell plays both a mother and her daughter as well as filling in with the ensemble as needed. She has a great voice and excellent presence. Stalwart Rik Robertson shows why he is always an asset to whatever show he is in, as he is especially moving as Papa Starling, providing perhaps the only moments of honest emotion. Amanda Heisey shows excellent dance skills, something I had noticed about her in the past, even though she is always a charmer when on stage. Steve McAllister has his best moments as Dr. Chilton the psychiatrist who thinks he is a step ahead of Hannibal Lecter. Danielle Snelling and Paul Costello round out this amazing cast.
Director Kelly Wynn Woodland, not usually known for musicals, finds perfect balances here. Her cast all understand it is a parody, but they play it straight enough to allow the audience to have the experience of letting the script's built-in excesses land by themselves rather than being forced. Choreographer Brian Finnerty adds another solid success to his resume, keeping the stage filled with movement.
Music director Peter Madpak's ensemble of three (another piano and drums) keeps the musical end of things lively.
Costume designer Adam Bobby Farman finds a nice balance between realistic and what is proper for a self-proclaimed parody. The basic set by Brian Freeman perfectly sets the dark mood, and all the other elements of his scenic design help keep everything moving along. Cindy Carruth is the lighting designer and Dorian Boyd does his usual exemplary job with sound design.
Venice Theatre over the years has built an audience for a piece like Silence! The Musical. No doubt there will be some excitement, due to it being a local premiere, and the show did enjoy some success Off-Broadway. I have mixed emotions about this genre of macabre musicals. Little Shop of Horrors is one of my very favorites, and I definitely found Beatsville at Asolo Rep a few years ago to be in the favorable category, but The Rocky Horror Show and others don't draw me in so much. Do remember to leave all semblance of good taste behind when coming to see this excellent production.
Silence! The Musical, through November 25, 2018, at Venice Theatre, 140 West Tampa Ave., Venice FL. For more information, call 941-488-1115 or visit www.venicestage.com.