By Lisa Norris, BroadwayWorld.com
Shadowbox Live presented the completely campy REEFER MADNESS again last night, and in Julie Klein’s warped little director’s brain, it was pure “mockumentary” delight. REEFER MADNESS is a wacky musical adaptation of the 1936 exploitive propaganda film by the same name that became a cult classic. Much like those horrific driver’s ed movies we are all forced to view in a an attempt to “educate” us against the evil of drinking and driving, REEFER MADNESS begins as a community theater troupe’s presentation of a bright, boy-next-door, Jimmy Harper, and his high school love, Mary Lane whose lives are polluted by the irresistible draw of the local “Reefer Den”. To pull off this kind of a show, you have to be insanely talented or incredibly funny- fortunately this entire ensemble are pros at both avenues.
Tom Cardinal and Mary Randle as the stereotypical authority figures, are satirically brilliant masters-of-ceremony in this hysterical farce. The over-the-top wholesomeness of Jimmy and Mary is expertly played by the ringlet curled Renee Horton, and the bow-tied Jamie Barrow. Both embrace their characters so whole-heartedly, you can’t help but find them amusing, and the fact that these two are both superbly talented performers isn’t lost in the goofiness. Both Horton and Barrow have gorgeous voices, and their turns as sex-crazed potheads down the road show the versatility of their skills well. Kaitlin Descutner, while taking the show from the 1938 original into the 50’s, creates a vivid and enticing stage with her flashy period costumes, down to the poodle skirts and saddle shoes. “Romeo and Juliet” is the cute and hokey, but sweet start of naïve Jimmy andMary Lane’s journey from innocence down the inevitable slippery slope of moral degradation.
Satanistic drug pusher Jack, played by Donathin Frye, is the leader of the local “Reefer Den”. Along with Nikki Fagin as Sally, a pothead who pays for her habit by selling her own child, Andy Ankrom as Ralph, a psychotic ex-college frat boy, and Leah Haviland as Jack’s girlfriend Mae, Jack tricks the innocent Jimmy into taking his first hit of marijuana, from which he becomes instantly, and hysterically absurdly, addicted. Donathin Frye has the tough job of playing a character that there is really nothing amusing or likable about, yet carries the role through well. Andy Ankrom’s over-the-top constant giggling has a contagious effect that is quite funny. Nikki Fagin also delivers as the very blonde, weed addicted seductress, and Leah Haviland’s vocals as sad, abused Mae are Broadway caliber beauty. There is far too much smacking around of the women, and a murder scene that is obscenely gory, but these performers play great character roles to the hilt.
While largely a dark, sad, twisted satire, REEFER MADNESS has several completely off-kilter bits that are comical as well, including Tom Cardinal as a wheel chair bound FDR who “dances” by lifting his own legs, and the terrifically funny Billy DePetro as a golden loin clothed hallucinated Jesus, who comes to get Jimmy to listen to him in a hilariously blasphemous number complete with singing angels. Edelyn Parker is fabulous as soda jerk gone wrong, Mrs. Poppy, also. Throughout, the Shadowbox Live band is terrific, and Katy Psenicka’s choreography is energetic, executed flawlessly by the ensemble, and so much fun to watch.
Shadowbox has an insanely good ensemble who continue to amaze me as they not only wait tables pre-show, but are so phenomenally talented that they are truly addictive. If you have not taken in a Shadowbox Live show, REEFER MADNESS is a wonderful way to get hooked.