Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of The Full Monty
This month in Cincinnati, local audiences have the chance to see a number of musicals in their regional debuts. ETC's Grey Gardens and Playhouse's Emma are higher profile and have bigger budgets, but tri-state theatergoers should also consider Reefer Madness, currently onstage at Know Theatre of Cincinnati. Though not containing a musical score of the same caliber as those previously mentioned shows, this campy look at the 1930s conservative backlash against marijuana is a fun-filled and entertaining romp deserving of attendance.
Reefer Madness: The Musical is a satirical spoof of the 1936 propaganda movie of the same name. The book by Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy employs highly melodramatic camp to demonstrate the manufactured hysteria surrounding the use of weed during the '30s. Framed as a school assembly where a dramatic presentation by high school thespians is presented under the guidance of a concerned administrator, the storyline of the awful consequences of smoking pot plays out with great hilarity and wit. When teenagers Billy and Mary are conned into trying marijuana, they instantaneously become hooked. Save a couple of somewhat repetitive bits in the second act, the laughs keep coming quickly, and a clear political and social agenda (pro-legalization) is hammered home.
The book writers are also the songwriters, with Mr. Studney supplying the music in varied styles (pop, rock, disco, swing, etc.) and Mr. Murphy providing intelligent, funny and insightful lyrics. Despite having music of numerous genres, the melodies only rarely rise above a level of ordinary, and are a step below the lyrics. The only songs making sufficient impact are the title number, "Mary Jane / Mary Lane" (with the show's strongest melodic hook by far) and "The Stuff," in which an adult addict bemoans her reluctant dependence on marijuana.
Know Theatre gives the show a solid presentation. Eric Vosmeier smartly directs his cast to use a consistent campy tone reminiscent of that used in the Broadway production of Urinetown, and he is extremely inventive in his blocking and use of props. His staging of the scene where Jimmy is first seduced by weed, literally via the embodiment of scantily clad women and men in green, is one of several solid directorial choices. The choreography by Liz Vosmeier is extremely fun and appropriate, and Michael Flohr leads the talented band.
The twelve member cast is uniformly strong in the acting department, with the principals possessing fine singing vocals. Ty Yadzinski is appropriately stern and authoritative as the adult lecturer. Jenny Guy (Mae) has wonderful stage presence, and she and Mr. Yadzinski do the best jobs of capturing the essence of camp throughout. As the young would-be lovers at the center of the story, Courtney Brown (Mary Lane) and Daniel S. Hines (Jimmy) both convincingly convey the "golly gee" naivety of "desired" 1930s youth, as well the crazed antics of brain-fried addicts. The entire cast earns lots of laughs and does well in executing the intricate dances.
The purposely corny set by Andrew J. Hungerford consists primarily of cardboard props representing the low-budget production values of the high school drama department and does much to advance the camp appeal. The costumes by Laura Franzini are fun, sexy and attractive.
Know Theatre of Cincinnati continues to choose recent Off-Broadway musicals such as Reefer Madness: The Musical that Cincinnati audiences might not otherwise see. Like other recent efforts bare: The Musical and Thrill Me, the shows themselves aren't perfect, but it's nice to see a local company supplying worthwhile productions nonetheless. Theatergoers looking for some non-stop comedy might want to try a hit of this musical before it closes on November 14, 2008. Call (513) 300-KNOW for tickets or more information, or visit www.knowtheatre.com.-- Scott Cain