Review: Campy 'Reefer Madness' stirs the pot

2010-08-20T00:00:00Z Review: Campy 'Reefer Madness' stirs the potBy BRAD BOESEN / For the Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Weed. Herb. Grass. Mary Jane. Ganja. Chronic. Dope. It all means marijuana. And, if a certain 1938 film is to be believed, it's a scourge on our society that will enslave our children and lead them into an ever-deepening spiral of crime, lewd dancing, "swing-jazz" music and cannibalism.

The film is "Reefer Madness." Through its long life, it has gone from cautionary tale to exploitation film to cult classic to off-Broadway musical satire.

It's this latest version that opened Thursday night in the McDonald Theatre at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Directed by Jack Parkhurst with musical direction and choreography by Dan P. Hays, "Reefer Madness" is a silly, corny blast from the past that mostly succeeds in putting a smile on your face while it sweeps you into the seedy underground of shwag, blunt, shake, giggle bush (I found a great marijuana slang website).

Tim Anderson and Ashlyn Eggbrecht are Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, innocent, fresh-faced young teenagers ultimately led astray by the demon weed.

Jenna Mark, Brandon Kelly, Reba Clamp and Erik Gosnell are Mae, Jack, Sally and Ralph, the bad seeds responsible for their downfall.

Philip Matthews is The Lecturer, who narrates it all.

The cast is large and enthusiastic.

The action is campy and over the top.

The biggest problem with the show is the material itself. Much of the music is considerably less than memorable. Some is just annoyingly bad. Fortunately, with the exception of a few shaky musical performances, the cast makes the most of what they're given to work with.

Anderson and Eggbrecht are all sweetness and naïve charm as Jimmy and Mary, though they're less effective once the weed takes over.

Gosnell is a standout as Ralph. He's part Nathan Lane, part John Belushi and delivered the strongest vocal performance of the evening.

The show is at its best, though, during any of the several large production numbers. It's then that Hays' choreography, Joan Korte's costumes and an enthusiastic ensemble make you feel truly high.

Though, unlike the reefer (oregano! hydro! kush!), this high likely won't lead to cannibalism.

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