A school official grips a wooden podium, the sole item in front of the red brick backdrop of a 1936 high school auditorium’s stage. Anger furls his brow as he warns the audience of the unspeakable crimes they’re about to see performed on stage. The source of all these transgressions?
So begins Reefer Madness, the musical comedy performed in the Commons last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Adapted from the Public Service Announcement warning teenagers about the evils of marijuana, the musical was written by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney in 2004 satirizing the original film. The script takes the original plot and re-envisions it as a play within a play performed by over-the-top high school actors. The result is a hilarious satire that entertains on the surface while simultaneously commenting on the state of censorship and freedom of truth in the United States.
Cracking up audiences three nights in a row, the Student Musical Theatre Company adaptation of the musical lives up to the original musical’s wit and charm. Directed by first-year Rachel Wassel, the musical was a huge undertaking that proved to be worthwhile.
Although the cast was almost entirely comprised of first-years, there was no dearth of talent on stage. Each actor showed both vocal expertise as well as acting chops, making the performance a great experience. The play also benefited from featuring three members of the Colgate Thirteen.
The play centers around the lecturer’s narration. Played by first-year Sam Daly, throughout the play the lecturer emphasizes the dangers of smoking, often with a bitter, angry tone. These interjections greatly add to the comedy of the play. Additionally, Daly is one of the vocal stand-outs of the cast, and his frequent (and often ridiculous) costume changes steal the show.
To warn against the use of marijuana, the lecturer tells the story of Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, played by first-years Lucas Meyerson and Lindsey Simpson, respectively. The pair are happy-go-lucky teenagers with overly bubbly personalities, intended to be caricatures of “typical” Beaver Cleaver-type adolescents in the 1930s. Both actors hit their roles spot-on, taking on the challenge of how to act like someone who is supposed to be overacting. Their roles are among the most comedic in the musical.
Once Jimmy and Mary’s relationship is established, the play shifts its focus to the world of Mae, Jack, Ralph and Sally, the hedonistic inhabitants of a marijuana den where impressionable teenagers are lured and hooked on the reefer. Jack, played by first-year Peter Larson, is a fantastic villain, tearing Jimmy away from his world of studies and baseball into a life spent entirely in pursuit of marijuana. Jimmy spirals further and further down the rabbit hole, ruining his life and ending up in jail, all because of the five-fingered leaf.
The hedonistic characters are the most fun to watch interact on stage. Mae, played by first-year Tessa Drake; Sally, played by first-year Laura McDonald; and Ralph, played by senior Mike Chateauneuf, are constantly acting wildly under the influence, lamenting their addictions but nevertheless always looking for a fresh face to tempt. These characters give Reefer Madness an edgy feel to contrast with the clean-cut Jimmy and Mary.
Director Wassel gave the play a few extra touches that made the performance shine. During a number about marijuana-laced brownies, the chocolaty treats (free of any illegal substances) were passed out to the audience. There were also clever uses of placards featuring absurd declarative statements such as “Reefer makes you sell your babies.” Another scene featured silly string as a substitute for entrails during a darkly comic murder.
The aesthetics of the play also contributed to the performance. Although the set was simple and few large props were used, the music and lighting created a dynamic atmosphere on-stage. Each time marijuana reared its head to take another victim, a few chords from the opening number “Reefer Madness!” played and green light illuminated the subject. Additionally, the use of a chorus filled out many of the numbers, such as “Down at the Ol’ Five-and-Dime,” and “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy.”
Although the directing, acting and musical numbers stood out, there were a few technical issues with the play. The Commons was the only performance space available for the production, and the musical was harmed because of this location. Due to the low elevation of the stage, it was not possible to see all of the action that took place from a seat in the back of the audience. As a result, much of the audience missed out on the physical comedy so crucial to the play.
Additionally, Reefer Madness featured a live band accompanying all of the musical numbers. However, the instruments often overpowered the vocals, making many lines difficult to hear.
Despite these problems, Reefer Madness was overall an enormously entertaining musical — a big hit for the Student Musical Theatre Company.