Don't Bogart That Number

refer-madness-playReefer Madness, the Musical Music by Dan Studney, Lyrics by Kevin Murphy Book by Kevin Murphy & Dan Studney At the Gallery Players, NYC Through November 14, 2010 On October 7, 2001, Reefer Madness, the Musical opened its original short three-week New York run at the Variety Arts Theater. Given the date, so soon after 9/11, New York might not have been ready for "fun" theater as fires continued burning downtown. Ben Brantley in The New York Times wrote that "at least one extreme form of the ironic arts -- its flashiest and silliest incarnation, known as camp -- is ready for its last rites." Luckily, an excellent new production at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn now takes the musical beyond its camp origins. The director, Dev Bondarin, serves up an unpretentious evening of silliness, with a great cast spirit and good performances overall. Absent is any hint of self-conscious "aren’t we something" that [I speculate] turned off the critics and audiences in 2001. What this new production takes seriously is good ol' fashioned showmanship, here present in abundance. The musical is based on the 1938 dramatic exploitation movie on the dangers of "marihuana": clean wholesome young people were driven to madness after one puff of "the stuff" and go on to increasingly grave and self-destructive debaucheries. When that moralizing film resurfaced in the 1970s, its serious content was viewed as camp and the film became a staple of midnight movie screenings. A musical version hit the stage in Los Angeles in 1998 and ran for a year and a half, winning awards and attracting repeat customers. Then came the 21-day flop in New York, followed by a cosmetic squeaky clean made-for-cable Showtime version (replete with the kind of self-conscious conspiratorial "cuteness" that I deplore). The show has also been mounted by local theater companies here and there. The Gallery Player's productions frames the show differently than the original version. The stern lecturer, who introduces it, declares that what follows is a high school musical production on the menace of weed. (This declaration is absent from the synopsis on the musical's official site.) We're going to see a show, not a documentary about true life adventures of youth gone bad, and thus the primary road to moribund camp is avoided. Even though this idea generally subsides along the way, the seed is planted, and thus we are relieved from the burden of watching the pretense of real life. The production moves with a wild and carefree abandon, and since it is all for fun, who cares if the quite serviceable songs are less than memorable and the story predictable. So what if the writers took their original cues from such predecessors as The Little Shop of Horrors, The Rocky Horror Show or Grease. Let whimsy have its new day! For admirers of nearly unclad bodies in motion, the show gives us Vegas-like skin numbers. The choreography by Joe Barros is good and the dancers are competent and obviously enjoying themselves. Indeed, the fun the entire cast is having is infectious and carries the show along to its raucous conclusion. Jason Edward Cook (as Jimmy Harper, the victimized fresh-faced lead) delivers an engagingly nutty, manic performance. His singing and dancing talent are undeniable. Rebecca Dealy (as Jimmy's paramour Mary Lane) is just right as the bubble-headed girlfriend. Greg Horton (as the lecturer/narrator) is so good at being a conservative blockhead, I hated him -- and that is very effective acting! José Restrepo (the pusher) delivers the right amount of sinister sleaze. Michelle Scully is fine as the Jayne Mansfield-like shill who sells her infant to support her habit. Zak Risinger (as the failed college jock gone bad) shows he is an accomplished comic. Jaygee Macapugay (as Mae, the severely "addicted" housemother) gets to display her fine singing with her plaintive solo song entitled "The Stuff." Delightfully, the entire cast and production company, including (but not limited to) the dancers, the costumer, Soule Golden, the set designer, Dan Jobins, the orchestrators, David Manning and Nathan Wang and the director, Dev Bondarin, obviously have their own "stuff" well in hand to create a breezy enjoyable evening of musical madness. - Jay Reisberg jay-reisberg-photoMr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, assistant to the founder of New York's Love Street Theatre and bon vivant at large.