By Richard Ades, The Other Paper
If there’s any justice in the world, Reefer Madness will pull in three times as many viewers as recent local productions of Evil Dead: The Musical. The spoof of the classic anti-drug film is at least three times as funny and tuneful as that inexplicably popular gorefest.
Shadowbox Live’s production, directed by Julie Klein, makes the most of the intrinsically campy material. Sometimes too much.
Renee Horton goes a bit overboard on her baby-doll impersonation of Mary Lane, an innocent high school student in the 1930s—though she redeems herself after Mary tries the evil weed and instantly turns into a sex-crazed dominatrix. Hubba-hubba!
And really, was it necessary to clothe Jesus (a hunky Billy DePetro) in a golden loincloth? The costume comes off as a lamé attempt to achieve instant cult status by aping the outrageousness of The Rocky Horror Show.
Most of the time, though, the actors are allowed to play the truth, which is almost always funnier than playing the farce. Jamie Barrow excels as student Jimmy Harper, whose surrender to “marihwana” and subsequent fall from grace is at the center of the tale. Also displaying admirable conviction are Donathin Frye and Leah Haviland as the proprietors of the town’s “reefer den,” and Nikki Fagin and Andy Ankrom as the lost souls who populate it.
Featuring a book and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and enjoyable music by Dan Studney, Reefer Madness begins as a talk given by a husband-and-wife team of lecturers (Tom Cardinal and Mary Randle) on the dangers of marijuana. They then illustrate those dangers by inviting a community theater troupe to act out the tragic story of local teens Jimmy and Mary.
The humor mainly comes from the morality tale’s exaggerated claim of pot’s potency—a single toke being enough to turn a decent youth into a horny and amoral maniac. But there are other comic touches throughout, such as an appearance by a wheelchair-bound FDR (Cardinal) during which he “marches” by using his hands to lift his lifeless legs.
Strong singing and musical accompaniment add to the fun, as do Katy Psenicka’s playful choreography and Kaitlin Descutner’s colorful costume designs (which actually are more ’50s than ’30s, though it hardly matters).
And Evil Dead fans, please note: Reefer Madness has its share of gore, especially when a case of the munchies leads a pothead to cannibalism. Yum!
The war on drugs may be an uphill battle, but since it inspired the original Reefer Madness and its musical takeoff, it can’t be seen as a total loss.