Reefer Gladness: Waterfront Playhouse Scores with Hysterical Send-Up of Cautionary Tale (Paradise)

Reefer Gladness: Waterfront Playhouse Scores with Hysterical Send-Up of Cautionary Tale (Paradise)

Posted Thu, Mar 6, 2008 in Reviews

By Terry Schmida

In an age where absurd agitprop and Orwellian disinformation abound, it’s kinda cool to see the irreverent among us turn vintage bollocks into toe-tapping entertainment.”Reefer Madness, the Musical,” now showing at the Waterfront Playhouse, is a freewheeling farce. The production is directed by Danny Weathers and combines first-rate acting, professional choreography by Penny Leto, the imaginative costumes and props of Leigh Hooten, and a great script.The original 1936 “Reefer Madness” was financed by a church group to warn parents of the dangers of the “demon weed” but was purchased by notorious film producer Dwain Esper who added lurid sex sequences and turned the movie out on the “exploitation film” circuit.The uncopyrighted flick was forgotten, drifted into public domain and was rediscovered at the Library of Congress in 1971 by NORML founder Keith Stroup. He bought a print for $297, and began trolling it around college campuses and rep cinemas, where its campy overacting made it an overnight hit. (Not everyone got the joke, however. Legend has it that in 1973 young Republican operative Karl Rove actually suggested to Richard Nixon’s counselor that the film be shown at college Republican clubs to boost support for the GOP.)By the mid ’70s the film became a cult classic, and in recent years has been made into an off-Broadway musical and Showtime TV movie.Now, the tale has filtered down to community theaters such as the Waterfront.What were we just talking aboutOh, yeah . . .So, the plot is predictably simple. Teenyboppers Jimmy (Marc Crow) and Mary (Kristin Bussiere) are high school sweethearts destined for a staid and monotonous life of domestic bliss. When Mary enters the couple in a dance contest, her beau is petrified that he won’t be able to keep up. As coincidence would have it, the evil pot pusher and devilishly good dancer — Jack (Denis Hyland) overhears Jimmy’s plight and offers to help.Back at Jack’s Reefer Den, the fiend and his drug-addled lady Mae (Mary Falconer) transform Jimmy into an instant weedhead who cares for nothing but his next fix.They’re aided in this endeavor by den hanger-ons Ralph (played with true genius by Michael Aaglan) and the sexy Sally (Nulita Loder,) as well as “Reefer Zombies” Laura Chaneski, Carolyn Cooper, Rhett Kalman, Christine Marguerite, Scott Shambaugh and Philip Griffin Tabb.The Reefer Madness Band, featuring conductor Michael Fauss on keyboards, Chris Bouchard on guitar, George Hemunds on woodwinds, Jim Wist on bass and Max Zemanovic on percussion, drones a Doors-like groove as Jimmy and the Zombies puff away on a 40-foot hookah that would intimidate Cheech & Chong.Eventually Jimmy sees the error of his ways, but realizes after committing a fatal hit-and-run — that it’s now too late to turn back. He tries to run away from the whole scene, only to be reeled back in by a brownie-wielding Jack.By the time Mary sets out to find Jimmy, you just know that this thing ain’t gonna end pleasantly and it doesn’t. (Jimmy does live to tell his tale and Mae ends up with a “funny story” of her own, bit this is, after all, a play on a morality play.)It’s hard to pick stand-outs here, as the whole cast really delivers, but there’s no denying Hyland’s star power in the lead role of Jack. His serpentine song-and-dance delivery, (recalling his outrageous performance as Frank-n-Furter in the Red Barn’s “Rocky Horror Show” some years back,) is captivating proof of his Actors Equity status.Fans of the original film will love Aaglan’s Ralph, who, with his maniacal laugh, out-of-control afro and chronic dope habit best exemplifies the spirit of ridiculousness that characterized the 1936 black-and-white classic. Aaglan’s side role as Sally’s jaded and traded baby is equally amusing.Or course, what’s a lecture without a good Lecturer David Black, whose jaw-dropping solo performance in “Fully Committed” won him legions of fans a couple of years ago at the Barn, owns his role, providing the stern admonishments and narrative that remind audiences of the play’s earnest origins.It’s all just harmless fun . . . or IS IT!

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