Reefer Madness has struck Chapel Off Chapel this week, with RL Productions show opening to a packed house Friday night. The outdated, witty musical is based on a 1930s after school special style film on the dangers of marijuana. It hit the stages in 1999 and Off-Broadway in 2001, before a blockbuster movie in 2005.
Director Stephen Wheat has managed to put on the best possible performance of everything wrong with the early 1900s in America- full of wit, playfully embracing the bad stereotypes and making fun of how outdated and ridiculous the show is. The audience is instantly roaring with laughter at how outlandish the content is, and despite some very poor racist jokes that can hardly be heard over audience groans, the humour of the show is what makes it. An outdated, outlandish show that just seems so ridiculous in our modern society brings out the belly chuckles in everyone, and under Wheat’s strong direction, this humour is drawn out in every word and movement.
The choreography by Yvette Lee is stellar: slick, swing moves with syncopated snappy movements of the zombies and the sexy moves of the Five and Dime break out are all carried out with finesse and confidence by the cast, who are all excellent dancers. Priscilla Stavou is a highlight in her dance with Jared Bryan, who make a wardrobe malfunction look as sexy and graceful as possible, dancing half a number with the back of her dress not tied up! You’ll also laugh every time she awkwardly appears with a placard.
The performances by cast members were excellent, with James Cutler as the stern, overbearing and sort of sleazy Lecturer a stand out narrator for the show. Ben Adams and Grace O’Donnel-Clancey make an adorable dorky pair as Jimmy and Mary Lane, and Rosa McCarty is a divine, over dramatic and drug addled Mae. The vocally strong ensemble all create individually strong performances with memorable character quirks, but Ed Deganos almost runs away with the show as Jesus chanelling Michael Jackson.
Music under the direction of David Wisken is catchy and never misses a beat, but often competes with the cast, who as soloists sometimes fight to be heard. An opening night mishap, perhaps, but Adams is to be commended for singing ‘Mary Jane/ Mary Lane’ without a microphone, and the cast and crew did well to respond to this, dropping the band levels quickly in response. It was a pity we missed out on how clearly the harmonies ring true between Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, but future audiences will be sure to delight in them.
The set, designed by Simon Coleman, is simple, with easy pieces rolled in and out to easily transform into new spaces, and features memorable cardboard cut outs and cardboard placards that amp up the slapstick comedy of the show. The stage is set up to allow the cast multiple exists and entrances, and includes some well used windows and doors in the set that enable the cast to appear from almost any angle.
The lighting by Jason Bovaird is bright and uses a broad range of colours effectively to transform the Chapel Off Chapel stage, as well as an old school lighting feel of the earlier decades- tight and snappy spotlights and colour chases that in any other show may not have been as gracefully done. The stage is well managed by all cast members, who navigate the small theatre space with ease.
Reefer Madness is a hugely comical show that plays at Chapel Off Chapel until December 4 2016, and for lovers of cult musicals, this one is not to be missed.
Tickets at: http://chapeloffchapel.com.au