BWW Reviews: REEFER MADNESS Tenth Anniversary Reunion Concert Leaves Audience High
Long after the Waldos of San Rafael, California coined the term "420" when agreeing to meet up at a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 p.m. to go searching for a Coast Guard service member's plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard Station, composer Dan Studney, lyricist Kevin Murphy, and actor/producer Christian Campbell decided that it was time to test the waters in New York City for the return of the hit cult musical Reefer Madness. Lighting up at 54 Below, they used the internationally recognized "Weed Day" to see just how high the 17-year-old material gets modern audiences while also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the film adaptation of the show.
Despite celebrating the Showtime film's milestone, the Reefer Madness Tenth Anniversary Reunion Concert really seemed to be celebrating the original Los Angeles cast. Original LA cast members Lori Alan (Mae), Christian Campbell (LA Jimmy; Film Jimmy), John Kassir (LA Ralph and others; Film Ralph), Harry S. Murphy (Lecturer and others), and Robert Torti (LA Jack/Jesus; Film Jesus) were joined by Andrew Berlin, Saum Eskandani, Kristen Martin, Lauren Molina, Heather Parcells, Ryann Redmond, and Amy Spanger (Film Sally). Likewise, original LA musical director David Manning led the band on the piano for the reunion concert. Even though film diehards missed seeing Kristen Bell (Mary Lane), Ana Gasteyer (Mae), Alan Cumming (Lecturer and others), Steven Weber (Jack), and Neve Campbell (Miss Poppy), there was plenty to enjoy at the rollicking event that was directed by Ilana Ransom Toeplitz and produced by Shoshana Feinstein.
Kassir kicked off the evening with his iconic stoner laugh, and the band launched into the heavily ominous and antiquated film thriller-like chords of the overture. Throughout the evening, Kellon Anderson on winds, John Convertino on bass, Craig Magnano on guitar, and Jeremy Yaddaw on drums kept the music vibrant. Whether playing a spunky number that encourages the audience to dance the jitterbug or the more moody minor chords and undulating rhythms of "Murder!," they ensured that the music captured the whimsy of the audience.
Singing songs from both the original stage and film versions, the cast delighted the enthusiastic audience with favorite numbers from the silly yet satisfying score. Channeling the breathy jazz stylings of her original LA version, Alan's rendition of "The Stuff" was sultry and comical. Even without being able to dance on the cramped stage, the concert's ensemble performed "Down at the Ol' Five and Dime" with indefatigable energy and cheer. Campbell's charisma and terrifically intonated tenor and Spanger's nasal Broadway belt and range stole the show with the raucous and hedonistic song "The Orgy." With comedic aplomb and a darling cartoon voice Kassir had every one giggling with the hysterical "Lullaby." Torti's enigmatic Jesus and full-bodied and warm instrument enchanted us on "Listen to Jesus, Jimmy." Martin showed off a powerful belt with her sexy vocals on "Little Mary Sunshine." Campbell's encore of "Mary Jane/Mary Lane" was a true highlight of the evening, and sent the audience out high as a kite.
The enthusiasm of the crowd at 54 Below and the sold out concert at New World Stages in 2014, seem to indicate that New York is ripe and absolutely ready for a fully realized production of Reefer Madness. Let's hope that the three concert performances that kicked off the week at 54 Below aren't the last toke on this ebullient musical comedy.