by KAREN BORCHERT, guest reviewer
The musical parody of the 1936 film by the same name, Reefer Madness, presented by Minneapolis Musical Theatre and Hennepin Theatre Trust, is well-timed given the sensation around marijuana legislation in recent months. The 1936 film, which warned of the evils of the “leafy green substance,” had somewhat of a cult following for its over-the-top depiction of how marijuana would bring ruin to the lives of innocent children. This naturally transformed into a musical spoof by Kevin Murphy (lyrics) and Dan Studney (music) in the late 1990s and a popular film in 2005.
The lecturer (Garrick Dietze) tells the story of two young sweethearts Jimmy Harper (Kurt Bender) and Mary Lane (Amanda Weis) as they are seduced by the “evil weed.” While a little slow to get started, the show really takes off after Jimmy smokes his first “reefer stick” and barrels full speed ahead into a rampage filled with sex, euphoria, murder, and paranoia. The show is kept lighthearted with favorites such as “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy” performed by a fabulously flamboyant J.C. (Daniel Ray Olson, who also plays Jack) and dancing life-size pot brownies. However, some of the best laughs come from the dope fiends themselves: Jack, Mae (Maggie Mae Dale), Sally (Emily Jabas), and Ralph (Keith Hovis).
The musical talent of the cast leaves nothing lacking, with strong soloists and an energetic ensemble. Director Steven Meerdink has managed to create a crisp and clean production despite its debaucherous content. With cartoonish props and setpieces married with overblown characters, the show achieves the appropriate level of camp with minimal eye-rolling moments.
Beneath the satire lie subtle jabs at our personal stereotypes and prejudices, as well as the timeless use of fear mongering. The show concludes with the poignant line “When danger’s near, exploit their fear”, reminding us to approach media stories and political propaganda with a healthy grain of salt. These themes, though relevant and timely, are fairly well veiled beneath an extremely comedic, lighthearted, and outrageous caricature that does not fail to entertain.
Reefer Madness, by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney. Presented by Minneapolis Musical Theatre and the Hennepin Theatre Trust at the New Century Theater, 615 Hennepin Ave #145, Minneapolis. February 1-24, 2013. Tickets $24-29 at www.HennepinTheatreTrust.org or call 1.800.982.2787.