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Theatre Reviews: "Moon Over Buffalo" at NKU, "SILENCE! The Musical" at Falcon

Northern Kentucky season openers are giving audiences a good time with a pair of very, very, very, very – we’re talking really different comedies. 

Moon Over Buffalo at Northern Kentucky University is a contemporary, backstage farce that looks back to the Fifties for its setting and even further back, say the Thirties, for its plot.

Silence! The Musical is an unabashedly smutty and obvious send-up of The Silence of the Lambs at Falcon Theatre in Newport. It’s a case study not just in psychological deviancy (and there’s plenty of that) but more importantly in how casting the right people in the right roles can make a show.

At NKU, crowd-pleasing playwright Ken Ludwig’s loony, theatrical farce Buffalo has a plot familiar to anybody who’s a fan of Hollywood screwball comedies from the Thirties. The John Barrymore-inspired screwball here is has-been and middle-aged actor/director George Hay (Nathan Doninger), who is reduced to touring the backwaters of America, currently Buffalo, with his actress wife Charlotte (Melissa Cathcart.)

George has gotten the company ingénue pregnant and everything is going to hell in a handbasket when the phone rings. Ronald Colman has broken his leg(s), legendary director Frank Capra needs to replace him yesterday and he’s flying in to see the show! And maybe revive their careers!

Except there isn’t going to be a show because Charlotte is walking out, the ingénue is walking out, everybody keeps leaving the room by different doors, including the Hays’ daughter Rosalind (Ellie Chancellor), her ex-boyfriend, her new fiancé – oh, and Charlotte’s deaf mother Ethel (Leirin Jackson.)

When most of them walk back in, it’s unclear whether the matinee is costume drama Cyrano de Bergerac or Thirties comedy of manners Private Lives.

Under the smart direction of Charlie Roetting, who starts things with a clever filmed intro to the cast of characters, the actors land every joke, keep the pacing bright with the doors slamming exactly when they should and deliver a solid ensemble performance. 

Cathcart is very good as Charlotte throughout and demonstrates a nice comedic flair. Doninger doesn’t quite execute George’s humanity buried deep, deep, deep underneath the ego and the histrionics, but he’s delightful at physical comedy and George’s many excesses.

It’s a good-looking production, with scenic design by Ron Shaw, costumes by Cathy Siegel Hudson, lighting by Terry Powell and sound by Kevin Havlin.

At Falcon, Silence! is, like Hannibal Lecter’s liking for (somebody’s) liver and fava beans, not for everyone. This proudly unauthorized parody is laden with sexual innuendo and filled with songs with unprintable words.

The show itself doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a goofy – and dirty – lark, purposely low-rent. It’s the trio at the center of Silence! who keep us engaged for 90 minutes. They all have a sense of the ridiculous, and with Ted Weil directing, play it to the edge without ever losing their footing. They keep the audience happy until the end.

Lauren Bailey is a hoot as Clarice, who pumps up the volume on Jodie Foster’s down-home dialect, and encounters all manner of pervs (behind bars and not) with wide-eyed ambition and solid vocals. Mike Hall is great fun as Hannibal. He has a get-by voice but owns his role with dead-on dry wit.

Brandon Bentley comes in late in the show as Buffalo Bill, the serial killer who isn’t comfortable in his own skin and has the bright idea of skinning young women so he can wear them.

Fresh from a show-stopping summer engagement as oddball William Barfee (that’s bar-FAY) in Commonwealth’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, he delivers another show-stopper performance, with a couple of jaw-dropping musical numbers. I hope he finds a third one for a trifecta this season.

The small supporting cast of singing and dancing lambs (there’s even a salute to Bob Fosse) take on a variety of roles and ever-reliable Burgess Byrd delivers, as she always does.

Moon Over Buffalo, through Oct. 4. Northern Kentucky University, Corbett Theatre. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $14, senior citizens $11, students $8. 859-572-5464 and [email protected]

SILENCE! The Musical, through Oct. 10. Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Tickets $20, students $15. 513-479-6783 and here (Service fee for online orders.)

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts