Random Acts fires up addictive satire with the musical take on the classic propaganda film at The Starlite Room.
Satire is the Swiss Army Knife of comedy. You can mock an idea, a genre, a specific work, an individual — or all of the above. Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney’s “Reefer Madness: The Musical” is cutting on every level. This pointed comedy is the latest Random Acts production.
The time: 1936. The place: Anytown USA. The conceit: You’re supposedly in a high school auditorium, watching a musical on the evils of marijuana. (It’s actually a spoof of a lurid propaganda film from the period.) As to the story …
Jimmy (Jason Ellis) is an all-American teenage boy. Mary Lane (Caitlin Ellis) is Jimmy’s sweetheart. Jack, the unfriendly neighborhood pusher, lures Jimmy into his reefer den with promises of dance lessons. (“A puff is all it takes to loosen up your swing moves!”) But a puff is all it takes to plunge Jimmy into reefer madness — and send him on the road to hell. Before he arrives, Jimmy kills an old pedestrian in a hit-and-run accident, gropes and grinds everybody in sight, steals from the church poor box and gets on Jesus’ bad side.
Brian Finnerty is a hoot as the Lecturer narrating this fractured morality tale — a dead-serious crusader with a mad gleam in his eye worthy of Jack Black. (He portrays a not-too-shabby Satyr, too.) O’Dea’s Jack is as sharp as a paper cut; his Jesus is as smarmy as a lounge lizard. Jason Ellis does a hilarious Jekyll-Hyde transformation from A-student to drug fiend. Caitlin Ellis is equally sweet as Mary, the wide-eyed-ingénue — until a toke instantly transforms her into a whip-cracking dominatrix. Andrea Keddell hits the right melodramatic note as Mae — Jack’s weepy, addicted slave of a wife, who runs the reefer den. Vera Samuels is dead sexy as Sally — the baby-selling, barely-dressed bombshell who lures kids into the dive. Poor Sally. After an insane bout of piano pounding, the giggling degenerate Ralph (David Walker) comes down with the munchies and eats her for breakfast.
Each character has a lesson. In case you miss the message, Amanda Heisey trucks by holding up signs like a Ring Girl in a prizefight. (“Pot will make you sell your babies. For drug money!”)
Director Kelly Woodland hits it out of the park and into the stratosphere. The show is outstanding on so many levels, it’s hard to narrow it down to a few examples. But here goes …
This production is dense with loving detail. Heisey’s pouts, eye-rolls and reaction-takes when she trots out the latest sign. The Viridian green tint of Patrick Bedell’s lighting. The zombie hordes of pot addicts. The lovable varmint hand puppets from “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” even get a cameo.
It’s a cartoony experience. (As a card-carrying cartoonist, I mean that in a good way.) Woodland’s live action cartoon is worthy of Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett. As these masters knew, timing makes the difference between “ha-ha!” and “blah.” Her timing is flawless.
In keeping with the cartoony spirit, Tim Wisgerhof sets (and humongous joints) are his own oversized cartoons. His creative set design makes the most of stairways, nooks and crannies of the tight restaurant space.
Michelle Kasanovsky’s music direction and Dorian Boyd’s sound design create a fever-dream vibe. David Walker’s costumes perfectly announce the stock characters of the unimaginative, didactic lesson you’re supposedly witnessing.
There’s dead sexy dancing, too. Besides acting, Finnerty also cooked up the sizzling, burlesque-inflected choreography — and it’s definitely not for tender minds. If a youth hasn’t hit puberty before seeing this musical, they will once they do. Parents, you’ve been warned.
“Reefer Madness” combines smart political satire with a message for our day. It’s also darned funny, and full of good lines, which deftly mock the blunt propaganda of yesterday. (“Marijuana is the assassin of youth!” was the not-so-subtle message.)
According to the title song, this seemingly harmless herb is …
“Creeping like a communist, it’s knocking at our doors, turning all our children into hooligans and whores!”
The show is over the top, gentle readers. Expect counterculture comedy in the tradition of National Lampoon’s “Lemmings,” Richard O’Brien’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show” early Mel Brooks, and John Landis’ “Animal House.”
No sacred cow is spared. No turn is left un-stoned.
If you’re easily offended, you will be.
If you get high on laughter, you’ve come to the right place.
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