Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Reefer Madness: The Musical, Nov 25, 2016 ***

Book and music by Dan Studney & Kevin Murphy, produced by RL Productions
Chapel off Chapel, until Dec 4, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Fri Nov 25, 2016
Stars: *** 
Review published in Herald Sun Arts online on Tuesday Nov 29, 2016 & later in print. KH
Grace O’Donnell-Clancey  & Ben Adams, pic Nicole Risley
 If you’ve never seen the 1936 American propaganda film, Reefer Madness, find it, then marvel at its scare tactics that suggested marijuana was a far worse threat to the USA than heroin or cocaine.

The film re-emerged as a cult classic in the 1970s counter-culture then, in 1999, Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy wrote Reefer Madness: The Musical, a broad parody that pushes the scaremongering into total absurdity.

In Stephen Wheat’s raucous production, James Cutler is the highlight as the smugly conservative, bespectacled and suit-clad Lecturer who preaches to an audience of high school parents about the ways marijuana leads to addiction, debauchery, murder – and the evils of jazz music!

Standing in a school hall, this smarmy Lecturer relates a morality tale about clean-living, 16-year old Jimmy Harper (Ben Adams) who is lured into the grimy Reefer Den where he turns from ‘good egg’ to ‘bad apple’ when he gets addicted to Mary-Jane/marijuana which leads to depravity.

Adams successfully captures Jimmy’s downward spiral from cheerful, awkward schoolboy to a demented, wild-eyed addict who careers from one disaster to another.

Grace O’Donnell-Clancey as Jimmy’s girlfriend, Mary Lane, is the epitome of the sweetie-pie, girl-next-door with her blonde curls and glistering white smile, although her singing lacks some vocal control.

The decadent scenes in the Reefer Den are entertaining, and Rosa McCarty as Mae, the den madam, is particularly funny with her spot-on comic timing, intentional over-acting and rich voice when she sings The Stuff, Mae’s lament about addiction.

Studney and Murphy’s songs are not particularly memorable or original, but the reincorporation of the chanted phrase, ‘Reefer madness’, from the title song, certainly sticks in the memory.

Wheat’s production emphasises the comic book style by using cartoon cut out props (design by Simon Coleman) and broad caricatures, and underlines the morality lecture style with placards bearing slogans such as ‘Marijuana makes you sell your baby’.

The absurdity ratchets up with songs such as The Orgy in the Reefer Den, the appearance of Jesus singing from the cross in Listen to Jesus, Jimmy, and The Brownie Song, in which Jimmy is re-addicted with a drug-filled cookie.

Playing both zombie addicts and prim community members, the youthful chorus performs Yvette Lee’s energetic choreography with gusto and the unseen, four-piece band is tight under David Wisken’s musical direction.

However, the stage action is relentlessly frenetic, the acting is uneven and the performances often involve too much shouting that diminishes the comedy.

Reefer Madness is a bit of rollicking fun with some ridiculous parody and singable songs, but it cannot compare to the bizarre, unintentional comedy of that original, propaganda movie that was supposed to scare the pants off American parents.

Kate Herbert
Cast of Reefer Madness, pic Nicole Risley
James Cutler as Lecturer
Ben Adams as Jimmy Harper
Grace O’Donnell Clancy as Mary Lane
Rosa McCarty as Mae
Jared Bryan, Phoebe Coupe, Stephen McDowell, Priscilla Stavrou, Ed Deganos, Samantha Bruzzese, Seth Drury, Ashlee Noble, Daniel Ridolfi, Tess Branchflower & Alex Thompson.

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