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Murphy, Dan Studney
When a musical comedy
has only one joke (and that one's pretty old and not all that funny), music that's mostly
forgettable, and dance numbers that seem to be from some other show, it had better have a
really sparkling and personable cast. Fortunately, Reefer Madness does. Right
down to Roxane Barlow, listed in the program as Placard Girl, who carries in big signs at
key moments to make sure the audience gets the joke, the cast is excellent.
Put these high energy, funny, likeable, talented folks into a show with
some real humor and better music and the show would run for a year. Which, of course, is
what it did in Los Angeles. New York may be another story, however, New Yorkers being the
curmudgeonly critics that they are, demanding top quality in all departments.
Even people who never actually saw the 1936 anti-marijuana film Reefer Madness might think they have, so many clips have been
shown over the years, and it has been talked about and joked about so often. It's a
ridiculous propaganda film that warns of the evils of the demon weed, demonstrating with
unintentionally bad acting how one puff can turn a nice, church-going kid into a murderous
monster. That is the one joke in this musical, worth a short laugh.
Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, the creators of this musical version of Reefer
Madness, find plenty of peripheral jokes and milk them like mad, and the actors do
their best. Greg Edelman, for instance is the Jimmy Swaggart look-alike lecturer speaking
to the small town souls who gather in the community center. He's just fine, also playing a
number of small roles, including a very funny FDR.
Among the leads, Christian Campbell plays Jimmy, the boy who has that
one hit that destroys him, and he sings well, dances just fine, and makes the most of the
humor. Kristen Bell, who recently played Becky Thatcher in Broadway's Tom Sawyer,
has, along with the high level of competence one expects in New York theatre, star
quality, that mysterious something that makes it hard to look anywhere else when she's on
Robert Torti plays Jack, a reefer-pushing hood, and that always
difficult role, Jesus Christ, both with sly and slimy humor. Hanging out with Jack at the
reefer den are Mae, acted with style and a touch of pathos by Michele Pawk, and Erin
Matthews as Sally, the goofy and sexy blonde broad who sells her baby for more reefer.
John Kassir-think Kramer with his finger stuck in a socket-is Ralph, far out, far gone,
The set is multi-level and dominated by a huge snake stretching from
one side to the other that turns into slides which, considering the trouble and money it
must have taken to build them, are oddly underused. The costumes are glittery and, in a
sequence set in heaven, deliciously droll. The lights are, well, bright.
With all that talent and energy and that great big set, it's too bad
there isn't more for the actors to sink their teeth into, more genuine humor, more music
that sounds original, and fewer wink-wink, nudge-nudge jokes about how stuffy those old
fogies are about pot.
New York, October 17, 2001
- Roy Sorrels