Silence! The Musical opens at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco on Friday, February 3rd — tickets here. The “unauthorized parody of Silence of the Lambs” is a show you are not to miss. In eager anticipation for the show, I got the opportunity to ask the two leads, Anne Norland (who plays Clarice Starling) and Scott Hayes (who plays Hannibal Lecter), some questions…
Before landing your roles, had you seen “Silence of the Lambs” and what were your thoughts on the film?
Anne: I am such a scaredy-cat when it comes to scary films or images. I was familiar with Jodie Foster’s accent and style in the movie, but I actually only really sat down and watched the movie start to finish in preparation for my callback for Silence! It scared the shit out of me. Psychological dramas are the scariest for me. It’s not gore-y or sneak-out-of-the-closet-and-spook-you like a slasher movie, but it’s freaky because that Giallo style gets under your skin (…no pun intended?). Any minute, someone might try to shove me in a well or bite into my face.
Scott: I actually saw the film the night after it opened back in 1991. Not only do I recall it being terrifying, but also remember the audience as a whole responding with gasps and screams. It was a genuine collective experience in the best way.
Tell me about your acting backgrounds. What drew you to “Silence! The Musical”?
Anne: I started singing and dancing–tap, jazz, and ballet–young. I did some opera as a child with the Washington National Opera; I always loved musicals most. Then, I studied musical theatre at NYU Tisch. I performed some in New York and then a bit in DC, where I grew up and returned to when I finished my degree at American University with a double major in Musical Theatre & K-12 Education. Silence! is a big break for me! I moved to SF in May and did some work with Bay Area Children’s Theatre. Silence! is a big deal for me out west.
In terms of what drew me to Silence!… First of all, I love Jodie Foster. I think she’s an incredible actress and an extremely intelligent creator. It’s fun to reexamine all the artistic choices she already discovered for the character, and then make light of the whole situation in the most admiring and respectful way.
Plus, I love a parody. I like broad, big, bold comedy where you get to throw everything out there and see what sticks. There’s nothing in Silence! that is out of the question. We get to try anything because nothing is too outrageous for this style. It requires a lot of trust, too. We trust our creative team to reel us in or amp us up. It’s a blast.
Scott: Having been involved in a lot of musical theatre, I heard about the Off Broadway production when I lived in New York but never got to see it, which I regretted as it sounded like such an insane idea. When I heard it was being produced here in San Francisco, I wanted in.
What was the audition process like? For performances such as these, the elements of singing, acting, and impersonation are all at play. How did you prepare?
Scott: The audition process was lengthy, several callbacks over a few months. For the initial audition I just picked a villainous song (from the musical “Oliver!”) and sang it the way I thought Anthony Hopkins would sing it. That seemed to do the trick and I was given material from Silence! to prepare for the callbacks, with the instructions to pay homage to the original performances in the film without trying to slavishly imitate them, which was perfect advice for, let’s face it, there’s only one Anthony Hopkins. So I tried to “suggest” his voice and mannerisms while trying to bring something of myself to the table. Happily that worked.
Anne: Silence! was one of my first live auditions in San Francisco. It was fantastic because the audition actually took place at the Victoria, where the show will perform, on the lovely proscenium stage. It required an initial audition, a dance callback, and two additional singing/scene callbacks. To say that I was surprised that I was cast is an understatement. The talent pool for this show was incredible. In fact, I thought there was no way I would be cast… I felt so new. Surprisingly, that feeling propelled me to play freely in the audition room in a way you can’t always let yourself. It was fun and I knew that if I was cast, we would have a great time.
To prepare, I really focused on my impersonation of Jodie Foster for the audition, recognizing that I would naturally have my own spin and quirks. I knew the creative team would have to decide whether those Anne-isms fit the style and the process.
It was challenging to play the reality of the scenes in auditions, and rehearsal, because I’m hyper aware of the humor and joke opportunities. It’s been a process of discovering how to remain totally committed and singularly focused on Clarice’s (the “Silence of the Lambs” Clarice’s) actual objectives and obstacles without getting distracted by the additional monkey wrenches thrown into the musical, while also keeping the pacing up with the craziness that goes on.
The show requires a tremendous amount of physical stamina. It’s a sprint to the finish line. Nothing can drop – not vocally, not physically, not emotionally.
Making light of a serious subject is no small task. What are the key ingredients to making the horrors of the film funny and entertaining?
Anne: Being true to the story. Being true to the character’s needs, history, and circumstances. The musical throws some additional obstacles into the characters’ lives. We have to play it all with the utmost sincerity and importance.
Scott: If you watch the film more than a couple times (or in the case of the cast of our show, A LOT of times) you come to the realization that much of it is already over the top. Our director Jason Hoover wisely suggested to me that since that element is already there, that the more seriously I played most of Lecter’s scenes the funnier it would be. That seems to be the key, especially with his songs, which are insane to begin with so there’s not much more needed — except finding where to breathe, as Lecter’s songs, as you’d expect, are very wordy.
What are some of the key characteristics and mannerisms of Anthony Hopkins’ and Jodie Foster’s performances in the film that most influenced your performance?
Anne: Watching the movie back after a week of rehearsals, I realized how ridiculously dramatic Jodie Foster was. That’s one of the characteristics I love to hold onto. The heavy breathing and furrowed brow. And of course the iconic West Virginia lisp.
Side note — I had a lisp until seventh grade. I grew up in northern Virginia and my mom and dad felt it was really important that I had speech therapy to correct that “s” sound.
Scott: Hopkins moves very little and never blinks in the film. I’m working on that, which is much more difficult than you’d think.
Do you have a favorite song in the show? And why?
Anne: They are all so different, which is pretty amazing for what the show is. The songs are way better than they need to be for this parody, if that makes any sense. I think “Quid Pro Quo” is a favorite because it develops the Lecter/Clarice relationship in a visceral way.
Scott: My favorite song in the show is one that’s rather hysterically shocking, to the point of its title being one that couldn’t be printed or said in mainstream media — if you want to know what it is, come see the show.
If you could choose another iconic role in film history to transform into a hilarious musical performance, what would it be?
Anne: Holy cow. What comes to mind is Annie Hall. I’m ready to be Annie… Showstopping number: La-di-da, la-di-da, la la. Let’s do it!
Scott: I think Darth Vader singing and tap dancing in a musical would be something to see …
Buy tickets to Silence! The Musical here.