PARK CITY — Reefer Madness has now become one of my new favorite cult musicals; it is witty satire full of ridiculousness, large laughs, and great music. The musical is based on the 1930’s propaganda film produced by a religious organization to warn parents and teenagers of the dangers and evils of marijuana. The low budget film was long forgotten until the 1970’s when it was rediscovered and re-released as an unintentional comedy. The movie followed the lives of two young teenagers, Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, who had the perfect lives until they were lured into marijuana, which leads to the melodramatic events that ensued, ranging from a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, and descent into madness. The film inspired a 2005 off-Broadway musical with lyrics and book by Dan Studney and music by Kevin Murphy, and has since garnered a cult following much in the same way other great cult musicals, such as The Rocky Horror Show.
Dark Horse Company Theatre, under the direction of William Richardson, delivered an impressive production with a talented cast and crew. The choreography was fun and the show was well cast. The actors successfully embraced the farcical style of the show with large and committed choices and functioned successfully as an ensemble.
Justin Banks as Jimmy Harper had the perfect look for the part and did a decent job in this role, particularly in “The Brownie Song” and “The Orgy.” In these two numbers, Banks had great comedic timing and had great facial expressions, accompanied by excellent dancing. Vocally Banks wasn’t as strong in his solos and was hard to hear over the band. His reactions were not always authentic and closer listening and responding would have lead to a more honest portrayal of the role. Natalie Noble, as Jimmy’s girlfriend Mary Lane, was outstanding in her zany performance of the naïve though slightly off-kilter girl next door. With a powerful voice and solid commitment to her large choices and her many comedic bits, Noble successfully gave a standout performance. Her solo “Lonely Pew” was especially funny as was her chase scene “Jimmy Where are You?”
However, Eve Speer and Marc Nielson, really stole the show with their hilarious performances and the fun characters they created. Speer’s remarkable voice soared in “The Stuff” and her solid commitment to the absurdity of the play made her engaging to watch in her scenes as the battered woman Mae. Nielson is a talented character actor and gave an enjoyable performance as Ralph, with excellent comedic timing and commitment. I appreciated Nielson’s willingess to be daring in how he played Ralph; yet, he never detracted from the lead actors or the general purpose of a scene. The scene where Ralph gets the munchies and devours Sally was especially funny, as was the scene where Nielson plays the overzealous electric chair operator. Speer and Nielson were complimented nicely by Tyson Baker as Jack, the greasy reefer pusher and abuser of Mae, and Marissa Poole as the “reefer whore” (instead of a “crack whore”) Sally, who sells her baby for reefer. The four members of the “Reefer Gang” worked well as an ensemble and interacted well to create some hilarious scenes and numbers.
Allen Smith gave an excellent performance as The Lecturer and efficiently transitioned into the many minor characters he also played throughout the show. Smith brought a different characterization to each of these parts and was a lot of fun to watch as he transformed from the cheesy five and dime club owner, to FDR and then to the Devil (which he gave a fun “Kiss” flavor in his portrayal).
The rest of the ensemble members: Stephanie Pike Thomas (as the Placard Girl) and Aaron Cole, Adam Jorq, Ana Lemke, and Mindy Anderson also supported the show nicely and had some real show stopping numbers—ranging from teenagers at the dance club to angels, policeman, and reefer addicts. “Listen to Jesus Jimmy” and “The Orgy” were especially well done.
The lighting design, under the design of Gamyr Worf, was flawless, especially the foggy ambiance that lingered throughout the show and the backlighting, both of which contributed to a visually stunning show. This enhanced the production significantly and added a level of professionalism rarely seen in non-Equity theater productions. The costumes, (designed by Jyllian Petrie Unice) and the set (designed Daniel T. Simons) both created variety in the look of the show and aided the story telling and style of the show.
The main disappointed of the show was the sound. Though the band, under the direction of JD Dumas, was enjoyable to listen to and a talented group. But they frequently overpowered the singers making it difficult to hear many of the lyrics throughout the production. Part of the problem was the location of the band being so far downstage that the singers and microphones could simply not compete.
Though Reefer Madness has now closed, I would have strongly recommended this production for its shear originality and excellent execution by a talented cast and crew. Reefer Madness is a hilarious satire that ranks as one of the best-written cult musicals I have seen and had me rolling in my seat throughout the evening. Dark Horse Company Theatre continues to bring edgy and quality new works to Utah and definitely scored with this one!