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BWW Reviews: REEFER MADNESS is So Funny, It Should Be Illegal

Sometimes there's nothing as hysterical as hysteria. That's the main premise of Reefer Madness, currently produced by Doctuh Mistuh Productions, a musical satire about the dangers of marijuana. The show, which splits its run between the Spiderhouse Ballroom and the Dougherty Arts Center, is an absolute laugh riot.

Based upon the cult classic 1936 propaganda film of the same name, the musical version of Reefer Madness has become a cult classic in its own right. Its 1998 premiere in Los Angeles was slated to run for a mere two weeks, but it ran for over a year and a half. It moved to New York's Off-Broadway theatre district in 2001, was adapted into a TV film in 2005, and has been produced by countless theater companies all over the world.

The show, with book and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and music by Dan Studney, follows the original film's plot faithfully. We're told the tawdry tale of boy-next-door Jimmy Harper (Joey Banks) and how he falls into an addiction to marijuana. The only difference between the original film and the madcap musical is the latter's sarcastic, satiric tone and the addition of a few over-the-top sequences, including a pot-fueled orgy and a hallucination of a scolding but sexy Jesus.

After seeing Doctuh Mistuh's fantastic production, it's understandable why the show has garnered such a following. The score by Dan Studney is a fun mix of jazz, swing, disco, and rock, and the book and lyrics by Kevin Murphy are uproarious. "Creeping like a communist it's knocking at our doors, turning all our children into hooligans and whores" is definitely on my list of one of the funniest and most memorable lyrics from any musical of the last 20 years.

The zany show fits musical/stage director Michael McKelvey like a glove. The score, particularly the rock-fueled numbers, sounds fantastic, and his decision to keep the show consistently campy and melodramatic enhances the comedy and keeps the audience laughing. McKelvey's direction and the choreography by Rose Mitchell, Haley Smith Montgomery, and Madison Piner utilize every inch of the intimate Spiderhouse Ballroom, often putting several of the performers in the aisles of the audience.

The cast manages to sell the screwball comedy with ease, and despite the complexity of the choreography and score, the ensemble constantly delivers. Jose Villarreal is wonderful as the overly serious anti-marijuana lecturer, Paul Koudouris turns his Jesus into a sexy, campy superstar, and Kim Wilson gives us some seriously funny facial expressions as the placard girl who traverses the stage with some propaganda-filled cards.

The strong performances continue with the supporting cast. Kristi Brawner is sexy and sultry as Sally, though at times it looks as if she's just a bit uncomfortable with the role. Nathan Brockett gives Jack, the drug-dealing villain, a certain 1930s gangster vibe which fits the character and the show perfectly, and Chase Brewer is sidesplitting as Ralph, the manic addict who seems more laughing hyena than human. As our hero's sweetheart Mary Lane, Sarah Marie Curry is as wholesome and cute as they come, and her voice is gorgeous as well.

But the most memorable performances come from Joey Banks as Jimmy and Libby Dees-Detling as Mae, Jack's girlfriend and partner in crime. The baby-faced Banks is perfect as Jimmy, the good boy turned bad. He's cute and sweet in the first few scenes, dangerous and intense once introduced to marijuana, but he remains likeable and empathetic throughout, a remarkable feat considering the deplorable things he does through the course of the show. As Mae, Libby Dees-Detling is so good that she arguably turns a supporting role into a leading one. She plays the role with a strong dose of melodrama that is infectious and amusing to watch. Whenever she steps onto the stage, you know what is to follow will elicit a strong case of the giggles.

Overall, Reefer Madness is exactly what you'd expect it to be. It's a hysterical, campy, over-the-top satire of the dangers of a drug that is really only a danger to a bag of Cheetos. If you're in the mood for a satire that is both smart and silly, then this is it. You'd have to be stoned not to like Reefer Madness.

NOTE: For mature audiences only. Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.

REEFER MADNESS, produced by Doctuh Mistuh Productions, plays now thru June 30th. Performances are at the Spiderhouse Ballroom at 2908 Fruth Street on 6/16 at 6pm, 6/28 at 8pm and midnight, 6/29 at 8pm and midnight, and 6/30 at 6pm. Performances are at the Dougherty Arts Center at 1110 Barton Springs Road on 6/19, 6/20, 6/21, and 6/22 at 8pm and 6/23 at 6pm. Tickets are $15-$22. For tickets and information, visit www.doctuhmistuh.org.


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From This Author Jeff Davis

Jeff Davis is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television where he obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Theater with an emphasis (read more...)