Reefer Madness: The Musical
7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Through July 17
Carpenter Square Theatre
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker
$18, $15 seniors/military
Carpenter Square Theatre might consider shortening its season by one show. Last year, its season finale, “The Little Dog Laughed,” the best play of 2009, decamped to the Freede Little Theatre because of air-conditioning problems at the Stage Center’s Arena Theatre, CST’s usual home.
This year, the June 14 flood caused significant damage at Stage Center, so, again, CST’s season-closing production, “Reefer Madness: The Musical,” has moved to Freede. Maybe someone up there is trying to tell CST something.
Anyway, “Reefer Madness: The Musical,” directed by Terry Veal, is a low-rent parody based loosely on the 1936 film “Reefer Madness,” which achieved cult status in the 1970s. The conceit is that The Lecturer (the reliable Brett Young) is presenting a program on the evils of marijuana.
And, brother, what evils: You go crazy, don’t care if you get raped, sell your baby, giggle for no reason, lie pathologically and several other socially unacceptable behaviors that are enumerated on placards paraded onstage.
The protagonist, Jimmy Harper, a high schooler seduced into the degradation and depravity of “reefer madness,” is played with nerdy charm by Taylor Radke, an appealing young actor with a pleasant singing voice. The terrific Paul Mitchell, who is new to me, plays the villain, Jack Stone, a drug pusher. Oh, yes, Mitchell also plays Jesus Christ channeling Elvis. Don’t ask.
Notable performances are given by Alex A. Hall, who was so likable in Pollard Theatre’s recent “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” as drug-addled floozy Sally, and Brandt Sterling as creepy drug fiend Ralph Wiley.
The show is pretty mild, even with a little dry humping in the orgy scene. The final scene might slightly offend patriotic or religious extremists or admirers of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when FDR rises from his wheelchair and walks! That’s as provocative as it gets.
The most unfortunate aspect of this production is that CST has again employed, if that’s the proper word, canned musical accompaniment instead of a live orchestra, which, I presume, would have been done even if the show had stayed at the Arena. CST also used a soundtrack two years ago for “Debbie Does Dallas.” It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.
The sound is horribly tinny; the arrangements, grossly inferior; and the singers seem to have trouble hearing. They usually sound as if they are not singing in full voice. The result is highly unsatisfying music in, of all things, a musical. And this in the acoustically superior Freede Little Theatre.
It is regrettable that CST, whose very first production was a musical “”The Rocky Horror Show,” done with a live band, by the way “ has adopted the practice of using canned music.
Hopefully, this virus will not spread to other theater companies. “Larry Laneer