The Claire Trevor Theatre became a pretend “hotbox” this past weekend and will remain so until June 7 as the drama department presents Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy’s “Reefer Madness.” Once the smoke clears, “Reefer Madness” is the exaggerated musical version of the already exaggerated 1936 film about the horrors of marijuana use.
The audience is treated to a closed curtain and a mere podium to the side of the stage. The motto for the scenic and design crew seems to be “less is more.”
As simple as they are, the minimalist props and set are used for maximum comedic effect. In the opening number of the second act, Mary Lane, played by Erin Roush (fourth-year drama major), searches for Jimmy in a car, submarine and helicopter, among other things, that are all made out of cardboard cutouts. Each time she comes back on stage with a new mode of transportation.
Constant audience participation adds to the hilarity. The entire musical is introduced as a performance produced in the “Claire Trevor Auditorium” and the audience takes the persona of high school students watching. The responses to audience laughter, like the unexpected Public Service Announcement signs and Jesus’ offer to let the audience touch him, all add to the playfulness of the night.
Although the musical is indeed about a drug that damages users’ lungs, all actors in the show display their amazing set of pipes. They do this by not only putting their vocal talents in the forefront but also through their athletic swing dancing.
Standout vocals come from Anna Mae Wilson as pothead Mae and John Walbolt (fourth-year drama major) as the secret partner Mr. Poppy. Both Wilson and Walbolt have their moment to shine, which they take and run with it. Other strong vocal performances come from Zachary Reiner-Harris (third-year literary journalism major) as Jimmy and Garret Deagon (first-year drama major) as Jesus.
As funny as the overall performance is, there are a few things that are troublesome throughout the performance that hinders it from being what it could be. During the performance there are some slip-ups that are apparent to the audience.
Some of these are easily covered and made comedic – for example, a joint being lost but an extra being in the actors pocket – but nearly falling over a trash can and continuing to sing one song when the band has transitioned to the next are unfixable and obvious to the audience.
Also alarming is the uncanny resemblance the musical has to its made-for-TV counterpart. It’s understandable to watch the movie version of the musical to get some ideas, but when the costumes look near identical to the movie versions, the artistic choices seem compromised because they no longer seem like choices of the artists, but rather the choices of the director and his team.
Overall, graduate director Vince Tycer and his undergraduate group put on a strong performance that will not let the audience down.