DU Players' 'Reefer Madness' is a mind blowing 'hit'
Issue date: 5/14/10 Section: Arts & Entertainment
Colton perfectly imitates that voice and disposition of those straight-laced educational film hosts, so seriously involved in their teachings that they come off utterly ridiculous and amusing. He characterizes one in particular, of course; the lecturer from the 1936 film originally titled "Tell Your Children," whose austere warning against the horrors of cannabis were so dramatic and humorous that the film morphed into a cult classic, and from it was born the off-Broadway musical, "Reefer Madness."
The Drexel Players' overall production of this flashy, campy musical was nothing short of wonderful. Colton narrates to the audience as if we were impressionable parents, frightened for our good-grade receiving, well-mannered, disgustingly perky and overly-ambitious children. Of Colton's character, Director Nick Anselmo tells me, "Some of [his] dialogue comes right out of the movie, which is to show how absurd [he] is. But it's really all this sort of storytelling, the telling of this lecturer bringing the story together and dramatizing it with these high school students in order to scare [the audience]."
In his efforts, Colton relays to us the tale of Jimmy Harper (Steve Pribis), a good-looking, all-American boy of sixteen, whose innocent relationship with his sweet, wholesome girlfriend Mary Lane (Emily Kleimo) is slowly getting serious. But Jimmy's romantic endeavors are deterred when he meets his fate at local jukebox diner the Five and Dime where he stumbles into the sights of Jack (Andrew Leib), a tough drug pusher looking for young new customers.
The poor, ingenuous Jimmy is pressured into taking his first hit of reefer by Jack, Jack's addicted and abused girlfriend Mae (Laurel Hostak), and their friends/apartment squatters Sally (Kristen Tripolitis) and Ralph (Jeremy Toll). All four are assigned overly exaggerated characteristics, a result of the endless supply of marijuana that goes through the house: Jack is the violent criminal; Mae, a weakened victim to both Jack and the drugs; Sally, a highly promiscuous whore who does not care for anything not involving sex or weed; and Ralph, always crazed and always blazed with a relentless, hyena-like laugh.
Once a poster child, Jimmy Harper instantaneously turns "bad" with his first toke, and it comes as no surprise: the moment he hits his first blunt, the stage is transported from Mae's dingy apartment into a full-out orgy, complete with Vegas-like showgirls and a slew of scandalous and scantily clad characters. Kristen Tripolitis admits that the number, "Jimmy Takes A Hit," was a challenge. "Going into 'Reefer'," she says, "we all knew the costumes would be a bit risqué! I can't say we were prepared for [the number's extreme level of lewdness], but it has been a hilarious adventure and certainly a bonding experience for the cast."
Anselmo laughs at the way the characters take a hit, imitating their exaggerated and audible pulls on each joint. "It's not like anybody gets stoned in the show - it's like cocaine … [And] the minute you smoke [it], you've gotta get more."
Jimmy's new bad-boy persona quickly spirals out of control; poor, sweet Mary Lane is pushed to the side, as reefer becomes Jimmy's number one priority. Even his religion gets renounced; try as Jesus might to dissuade him when he shows up for "Listen To Jesus, Jimmy." Joe Mathew plays Jesus to be hilariously cool, fronting yet another ostentatious number complete with singing angel choirs, pedestals and glittering costumes.
Jimmy's actions evolve from juvenile disruptions to hardcore crime; yet while the stakes are raised, the comedy continually rises with it. Most musicals have a habit of retaining their comedy in the first act only and losing all the fun of the show in the drama of the second act, but "Reefer Madness" is hilarious through-and-through. The entire production is flawless, from the lavish costumes and exceptional acting to the fabulous dance numbers, choreographed by Miriam Giguere, head of Drexel's dance program. Ensemble member Lee Singletary says, "My favorite musical number is 'Down at the Ol' Five and Dime' because it is the first time you see the genuine youth of the spirited characters that the ensemble members play, after seeing them as zombies who fell victim to reefer. It's also just a fun, upbeat number with innocent kids dancing to great swing-jazz rhythms."
Pribis and Kleimo do a perfect job capturing the initial sweet naivety of Jimmy and Mary Lane, singing about how their love is like that of Romeo and Juliet's; never having finished reading the play, but fantasizing their fairytale ending. "Reefer Madness" exploits catchy and often humorous rock 'n roll tunes, of which the cast does a great job presenting. Kleimo and Hostak in particular showcase their vocal talents faultlessly in their solos.
The set is simple but effective, with the lecturer's brick-walled school on stage left, and Mary Lane's house on stage right. Most of the set pieces are on the stage temporarily, however, and tech did a great job of getting every piece on and off stage quickly. "Reefer Madness" also utilizes some great special effects, including a confetti canon, and creatively employed black lights. Anselmo states, "[Our] other shows have been pretty simple, tech-wise. This one's gonna be [the opposite] … there's one point when there's five things flying out at once. I just think that when you have a big theater like Mandell, you have to use it. When you have all the toys, you gotta use the toys … It's fun, it's flashy, [and it is] the biggest show we've done since I've been here."
"Reefer Madness" is playing at the Mandell Theater on 33rd and Chestnut Streets this weekend, Friday, May 14 at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 15 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students, and $15 for the general public.