Much is funny in this Stray Cat Theatre presentation, its final production of the current season. When Clarice (Brandi Bigley) visits Lecter (Scott Schmelder) at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, just like the film, the young FBI agent remarks on Lecter’s paintings of the outside world, except what we’re seeing are stick figures and globs of green circles representing trees. “All that detail,” she remarks with admiration. When Dr. Chilton (Hector Coris) explains to Clarice how she and Lecter will get along, he states, “You’re his taste,” adding, “See what I did there? It’s a pun.” Plus, when Bill’s next victim, Catherine (Cassie Chilton) first enters, she sings a line or two from Tom Petty’s American Girl, the song that was playing on the car radio in the film just before the abduction. The musical doesn’t do anything particularly funny with the song, but its recognition raises a smile.
...director Louis Farber keeps the action moving at an effectively snappy pace, never lingering on a moment to milk a laugh longer than needed, even though the script gives plenty of opportunity to do so. Where some productions around the country record a running time of either 100 minutes, 110 minutes, or even one coming in at 2 hours, Farber’s production is a brisk 90 minutes, and it’s that speed of presentation that makes all the difference.
But the show’s real strength, far more than the thin source material, is Farber’s casting. Backed by those of the dancing lamb chorus who double as all the support characters, Cassie Chilton, Vinny Chavez, Hector Coris, Ayanna Le Andre, and Devon Mahon, plus the dancers of the hilariously obscene dream sequence, Priscilla Campa and Nicholas McEntire, it’s the three leads that elevate matters.
Scott Schmelder’s Hannibal Lecter may have a one-note quality to his sound, but he’s undeniably amusing throughout, having fun with that creepy manner of delivery that is uniquely the voice of the movies’ version of the cracked psychiatrist. More than the profane, it’s when he responds to Clarice’s critique that he’s a scaredy-cat with, “I know you are. But… what… am… I?” in the absurdly comical way that Anthony Hopkins might have said it that makes you laugh.
David Chorley’s Buffalo Bill is so spot on that even though the show is going for the gags, Chorley is creepily effective enough in both looks and movement to be cast as the same character in a straight version of the play.
But at the center is Brandi Bigley’s Clarice Starling. Dressed in a muddied brown suit and wig to match, Bigley’s Clarice is the perfect parallel to Jodie Foster’s movie performance, right down to the voice, the accent, and a hilariously exaggerated lisp where the ‘S’ becomes an ‘Esh.’ Thus, her first big song that should have been titled This Is It becomes Thish Ish It. And the song to her father, Papa Starling, becomes Papa Shtarling. Though the most absurd and funniest use of the impediment comes when Clarice offers Lecter a lighter security prison term in exchange for his cooperation. She quotes a famous tongue twister, telling Lecter that at least once a week he would be able to, “shell she-shells by the she-shore.” It’s Bigley, not the Kaplan songs nor Hunter’s book, that holds it all together.