When an outraged church group in the early 1930s created the anti-marijuana propaganda film Tell Your Children to warn parents of the evils of “reefer,” they probably had no idea it would be reinvented and circulated as cult classic Reefer Madness, only to decades later spawn a musical comedy stage production of the same name, and then come full circle with a film version of the musical.
And I’m sure they would be most discouraged to know that their film, with its low-budget production values and hysterical characterizations, has become the inspiration for many late-night bouts of hysteria of the comic variety in theaters and living rooms blanketed by a smoky haze.
Out of the Box Theatre Company’s production of Reefer Madness — The Musical on Thursday at Center Stage Theater was everything an evening of campy musical theater should be. The songs were catchy and the writing sharp, with 1930s-era lingo sprinkled liberally throughout the script (“Hey, shake a leg with that grub!”).
And the cast — oh, the cast! Spot-on performances were delivered by all. A tight ensemble of a dozen men and women brought to life a handful of main characters and a bevy of bit parts, and a chorus of singers and dancers transformed from zombies to Lindy hoppers to angels with panache. It was a pleasure to see this cast of diverse locals, as Out of the Box Theatre Company is dedicated to maintaining in its productions.
A special note must go to a few stand-outs in this excellent cast. Sean Jackson as the Lecturer, who narrates but also takes on several other roles throughout, anchored the show with his solid and versatile comic performance. Adam Quinney portrayed Jimmy, the hero, with equal parts earnestness and kitsch. Samantha Eve, as his wholesome sweetheart, Mary Lane, hit this balance just right as well and has a sweet, clear singing voice. Shaun Plander played the over-the-top “marihuana addict” Ralph with a maniacal gleam in his eye and a keen instinct for physical comedy. And Geren Piltz busted out a glorious Jesus impersonation in a song and dance number where he and a chorus of angels implored Jimmy to give up the demon weed (“I’m the face on the shroud of Turin/Do I need to test your urine?”).
Kudos to director Sara Rademacher. The production flowed beautifully from scene to high-energy (and high-larious) scene. The cast was well-rehearsed, and the staging worked flawlessly, even when there was a lot going on — which was often. Live music by a five-piece band onstage brought energy and immediacy rarely seen in a production of this size. Choreography by Angela Carty, Megan Stanek and Robin Zelko gave the cast great moves to show off while playing up the camp factor.
So, Joes and dames, put on some glad rags, grab a fistful of cabbage and make tracks for Reefer Madness — The Musical — at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $15 for students with ID.
It won’t be a trip for biscuits. And if the big song and dance number midway through the first act with everyone in very little but strategically placed pot leaves doesn’t blow your wig, I’ll eat my hat. And maybe some of that pizza, if there’s any left.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.