CAMPY SONGS, AND EXCELLENT CHOREOGRAPHY FIRE UP ‘REEFER MADNESS’
“REEFER MAKES YOU GIGGLE FOR NO REASON’’ THE SILLY MUSICAL SPOOF GIVES YOU THE BEST REASON TO GET HIGH
The Victoria stage in SF’s Mission filled with the green bud and the 1930’s cult classic REEFER MADNESS. The smoking fun continues at Ray of Light Theatrethrough Oct 7th at the Victoria Theatre. Almost immediately after its release in 1936, the anti-drug propaganda film “Reefer Madness” first titled, ominously, “Tell Your Children” became a parody of itself, thanks to its overwrought warnings that demon weed would turn nice kids into zombies and nymphomaniacs. Placecard girl played by the perky Mary Kalita, marches across stage every few minutes with important warnings “Smoking Reefer makes you enjoy being raped” one of the many facts you learn during the 90 minute weed romp.
Directed by the clever Jenn BeVard who said “(we’re now) free to smoke pot, but the propaganda is churning for immigrants, trans, women, people of color.” Both BeVard and TBA award winning choreographer Alex Rodriguez -- were behind last year's The Wild Party. REEFER is a lively with music by Dan Studney and lyrics by Kevin Murphy. The Musical at its best is a production that takes advantage of the film’s tenets, including sex, cannibalism, murder and mayhem. It was a hit off Broadway and was made into a movie in 2005. Fact #7 “Smoking reefer hypnotizes white women”.
The production is bolstered by live musicians under the musical direction of Daniel Feyer who kept the company in tune with their excellent vocal chops. The fast-paced, superb fun and frenetic choreography by Rodriguez and his full throttle cast give the music a great comic energy. With a story filled with over the top camp, is first rate sizzle with Rodriguez choreography that becomes a character in this smoke cloud. “Smoking weed makes you a hot head hussy”.
The evening begins with a Lecturer, a stern authority figure a speaker at Benjamin Harrison High School, played by the superior Leah Shesky. The stern women informed the sold out opening night audience that playgoers become the citizens of the town attending to learn the dangers of a new drug menace “marijuana” that threatens the American way of life. The cast plays their roles straight, making the whole thing priceless as we laugh at the outrageous script and circumstances which include a visit from Jesus, cross-dressing males, simulated abuse, clothed nudism, sexless sex, bad driving, zombies and the warning “Smoking weed makes you sell your baby”
Swell kid Jimmy Harper played by the dynamic Phil Wong seems like a perfect fit for clean cut weed virgin. He sings “Romeo and Juliet” and keeps his pre weed charm until he meets the green. His love, Mary Lane played by the perky Brigitte Losey and they seem headed for Romeo and Juliet-style bliss until Jimmy gets hooked by Mary Jane. Hi-jinks, grotesque, silly, and preposterous buffoonery are front and center. Especially amusing were the show’s opening number “Reefer Madness,” “Down at the Ol’ Five and Dime,” and “The Orgy” along with another warning “ Smoking weed makes you hungry for human flesh”.
The comic Ashley Garlick, big eyes and exaggerated gestures, was terrific as Mae, the kindhearted abused partner of Jack, the hoodlum played by the versatile Matt Hammons. The terrific Hammons is the evil incarnate as bad guy Jack who later doubles as Jesus. Local favorite Adam Niemann morphed into a perfect perv as Ralph, the drug-pushing “college” guy, while the sassy wise Hammons sings “Listen to Jesus Jimmy” he is hilarious as Jesus. Christen Sottolano is funny and thoroughly focused, as the sex-crazed Sally whose woebegone fortunes include her unnamed baby you just know she's gonna sell to get her next fix! “Smoking Reefer makes you sell your Baby.”
The breathless cloud of herb due to the high-flying antics of the superbly cast ensemble of actors who bring the outsized, outrageous and cartoonish characters to the stage who include; Angel Adedokun, Audrey Baker, Joey Ellington, Madeline Lambie, Sean Libiran, Patrick Maravilla, Josiah Minued, Zachariah Mohammed, and Cecily Schmidt who all flounce around with delight as fem pot heads and phenes. Perhaps more to BeVard’s credit is the fact that the entire cast - regardless of the size of his or her role - is completely committed to the show's wild and timeless take on "just say no." That includes Rodriguez in your face choreography, which utilizes every inch of stage afforded him is filled with energy and verve, staged to show off his dancers' talents.
Costumes by Maggie Whitaker, clothe the actors in the ideal garments to help them more easily assume their 1930's characters', colorful suspender driven for the males and skirt and bright panties and bra's for the women. Jesus is always hallmark perfect in his robes and bright pant suits. Whitaker’s zombie wear is silly and camp horror. Sound designer Theodore Hulsker brings the cast to easily cover the needs of the Victoria theatre and keeps Sally’s baby as real as any child crying backstage. Sound engineer Anton Hedman kept Jesus wired with a classic hand mic. The chase, sex, rape and fight romps are well choreographed by fight master Josh Marx, and assistant director kept the two level set frantic.
This is not a plot-driven story, it's over top ridiculousness prevents that, and given its paranoid moments, plot would be hardly the point. The musical is filled with campy, clever songs, and the ensemble numbers are particularly wild and goofy. Tunes like “Little Mary Sunshine”, "Lonely Pew",“Lullaby”, “The Brownie Song” and the Vegas style 'Listen to Jesus. Wong is ideal as the earnest Jimmy whose trip down the rabbit hole of addiction ultimately results with a face to face with FDR himself. Wong's wide eyed innocence and his transformation into the drug fiend he becomes is fullproof. The actors is no holds barred performance completely wins each and every audience member over to the dark side.
Director BeVard keeps the manic production artfully high as he reconstructs the 1930s hype which makes the show even more camp than if it were presented as a contemporary tale. Props master Katie Jannitello had a great time keeping the cast equip with the perfectly rolled joints. Who else better than BeVard to helm a production of the thoroughly madcap and deliciously campy musical. Lighting designer Keenan Molner and video expect Daniel Anderson worked as team to give the show a VHS look running on the proscenium arch video to add to the mood of the pot party.
It's all in good fun, everything about REEFER MADNESS borders on the tasteless, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The cast gives the two act musical enough glitz and glitter to keep you engaged from start to finish, even if you have the notion it might be even more fun if you were a few tokes over the line yourself. Not that shocking since the smell of the leafy-green is part of the Mission District as you walk to the venue.
The two level set design by Devon Labelle echoes the overall feel of REEFER MADNESS - it reads "institution" and "down and out" with side sets for the fallen drug apartment and the town meeting lecture stand. Molner's lighting design illuminates the drug fest with plenty of back lights and his effects shimmer in the fog covered Victoria that helps the audience stay focused on what's happening. Feyer’s six member backstage band is crisp and awesome as the show rounds out its closing act of crazy pot drugged zombies in the screwball company numbers “Murder!”, "The Stuff" and “The Truth”.
Yes of course the “joke” is not as important since pot is legal now, but this night of rousing camp will make you smile and light up at shows end. The crowd stood with lighters lit for the standing ovation "smoked out" cast of fun. Ray of Light Theatre continues their edgy season of knock your socks off shows - up next for its third-annual fully-staged production of Richard O’Brien’s iconic The Rocky Horror Show warps back to the Victoria stage just in time for Halloween! - But in the meantime, roll your own and join the wild cast of REEFER MADNESS for your fall toke.
Ray of Light Theatre Presents
REEFER MADNESS THE MUSICAL
Book and lyrics by Kevin Murphy, Book and music by Dan Studney
Directed by Jenn BeVard
Choreography by Alex Rodriguez
Music Direction by Dan Feyer
Must close October 7th
Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
90 minutes with one intermission
Tickets at http://rayoflighttheatre.com/
Photos by Zac Wollons
CLIP FROM 1936 FILM
Leah Shesky (Lecturer) Brigitte Losey (Mary) Phil Wong (Jimmy) Ashley Garlick (Mae) Christen Sottolano (Sally) Matt Hammons (Jack/Jesus) Mary Kalita (Placard Girl)Adam Niemann (Ralph) Ensemble; Angel Adedokun, Audrey Baker, Joey Ellington Madeline Lambie, Sean Libiran, Patrick Maravilla, Josiah Minued, Zachariah Mohammed, and Cecily Schmidt
WATCH THE ENTIRE 1936 FILM
Running time 1:10 min