'Reefer' to hit DU stage
Issue date: 5/7/10 Section: Arts & Entertainment
I sat down with the show's director, Nick Anselmo, and he provided some great insight to both Drexel's upcoming musical and the film off of which the musical is based.
"The concept is you're coming to this high school auditorium, and this lecturer who is the drama teacher has gathered his students from the cast of 'Green Grow the Lilacs' to put on this show to demonstrate how evil marijuana is." The show tells the tale of young, aspiring, All-American boy, Jimmy Harper, who is instantaneously corrupted after his first hit of reefer. Jimmy's poor, sweet, equally All-American girlfriend Mary Lane falls victim to his detrimental choices as both become wrapped in a hazy plotline involving drug dealers, addiction and crime.
"The show [is] really funny; it's campy - but it's really about fear politics," Anselmo said. "The minute Jimmy smokes marijuana - the minute anybody smokes it - it's not like anybody gets stoned in the show -it's like cocaine. What they're satirizing in the musical is this idea that it leads to everything else, and so the minute you smoke marijuana you've gotta get more, more, more. They're smoking like fiends, and they always need more … and so you're watching, and you think 'Well, [the reactions the characters have to the drug] has nothing really to do with marijuana,' so it's really … making fun of the movie."
Of the original flick, Anselmo says "It's really dark and sinister, and they really play up the commercialism … the head guy who runs the reefer den ? they show him crunching numbers, and raking in all this money off of these young all American kids he's abusing …. It's really wild, but it's really all about scare tactics. And we tried to play that up, because there's really nothing subtle about this show."
It is surprising to me that Anselmo's choice in the musical had nothing to do with the movement towards legalization in California. A student three years ago actually suggested the show to Anselmo, so last year when Philadelphia's 11th Hour Theatre Company put on a staging of "Reefer," Anselmo went to see it. "They did a really great production of it, and I thought 'Well this would be really fun on campus'," he recalled. "And then it turned out that they're in residence next year, so all of their designers are designing [our] show."
The musical pokes fun at "Tell Your Children," amplifying its ironic and satirical humor with obscene flashiness, including Vegas-like showgirls, marijuana leaf headdresses and orgies. With confetti canons, an appearance by FDR and fun, upbeat rock and roll music, Anselmo admits this is the biggest show he's done at Mandell Theater. "There's blood, there's zombies - because everybody who smokes reefer, of course, becomes a zombie, and craves human flesh," Anselmo laughs, adding to the list of "Reefer Madness" absurdities. "And there's some really great special effects, which I don't want to ruin."
When asked about his favorite scene, however, the trend of ostentation from the conversation suddenly breaks. "'Romeo and Juliet' is one of the big songs from the show, and it's a sweet number. [The] young couple, Jimmy and Mary, sing about how they love Shakespeare, and it's really more about them kind of realizing that they're in love with each other. And they talk about Romeo and Juliet, and neither one of them has read it, but they talk about how they have a happy ending and how the lovers have kids … [But] the 'Romeo and Juliet' song is reprised, and it's this really sweet song. It's really clever; it's well written … [and] it's really touching. It's unbelievable that this farcical thing can be touching at times."
"Reefer Madness" opens next week at the Mandell Theater, showing May 13 through 16. Tickets are $5 for students and $15 for the general public. For tickets call 215-895-ARTS.