Arts & Events
I don’t go to the South Bay theatre often enough, so I drove down to San Jose Stage Company on Saturday night to attend the opening of “REEFER MADNESS.” The weather was balmy and summery in a way it just doesn’t get up here in Oakland. The weather puts one in a good mood, which primed me to see a delightful if silly musical.
The cast is very talented, the choreography has a couple of lustrous moments, but the music is wholly unmemorable and the lyrics are mindless doggerel. For instance, “Oh Marijuana, Marijuana / You crumpled me like cellophane / You’ve served me up like beef chow mein /But I need you, Marijuana.”
It’s parodying the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film of the same name that dramatized how the weed leads to rape, murder, and general misbehavior.
The music is more reminiscent of the late 1950’s “Grease”-type bubble gum than 1930’s swing, probably because it’s easier to use for parody and lends itself to simple-minded rhyme.
There is one highlight in which the music is more in the style of the Swing Era: the seduction scene of the virginal Mary Lane under the influence of the Evil Weed which has funnier lyrics and very sexy action.
However, the lyrics are wanting in wit, which is regrettable, because that is touchstone of a parody. They are all end-rhymed and without that internal rhyme which brightens the line and makes us laugh. Admittedly, I couldn’t make out all the lyrics; I guess the sound tech hadn’t quite got the right levels with a full audience in attendance (sound may differ at tech rehearsal than it does with a lot of bodies in seats).
Gabriel Grilli* is great to watch as the pusher gangster and--are you ready?--Jesus Christ returned. Galen Murphy-Hoffman* plays the authority figure and soda fountain owner and various other parts with vigor and humor. Will Springhorn, Jr.* is just hashish-maddened for most of the time, but his turn in the Mary Lane seduction scene shows off his voice and ability.
The lead romantic couple of Barnaby Williams as Jimmy and Courtney Hatcher as his ditzy, naïve, blonde girl friend Mary Lane give over-the-top, golly-gosh-gee portrayals appropriate to genre and era. Hatcher is a good swing dancer, who turns provocative vixen when she strips down in the aforementioned seduction scene where she is doing most of the seducing with a strong hint of domination. The Swing dancing is a plus with all the moves you would expect done with aplomb.
The choreography by Brittany Blankenship has a glowing moment or two, particularly in the seduction scenes, and there are three truly notable dancers: Orianna Hilliard, Carmichael “CJ” Blankenship* and Mikey Perdue. Hilliard has incredible flexibility with true grace, Blankenship has a body-builder’s physique with the dancing chops of a Broadway pro, and Perdue can pirouette for days.
The dope fiends are often played as zombies, and there is a moment of cannibalism as a result of a very bad case of the munchies…you get the drift.
It parodies a lot of other musicals, but it all seems to fall flat. It begins with a warning by an authoritative academic like in “Rocky Horror,” gives a nod to “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with a denouement appearance by FDR who refers to what a little red-haired orphan girl once told him.
Director Tony Kelly assembled a great cast full of enthusiasm and talent, staged it very well, and made sight gags where he could, but the material seems to be written one weekend by a couple of guys on brownies.
If you haven’t seen the film “Reefer Madness,” it will make it funnier for you know at least a little bit of it. You can VIEW it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2FZgErvNTE&wide=1
So if you’re looking for a uncritical good time, roll up a doobie, have some exceptional Mexican home-cooking at La Penita a block from the theater, and enjoy the hell out of yourself like the audience did who gave the show a roaring opening night ovation.
(*Member, Actors’ Equity Association)