REEFER MADNESS THE MUSICAL by Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy, directed by Elenna Mosoff (Hart House, 7 Hart House). To September 30. $12-$20. See Continuing, page 94. 416-978-8849. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
The cautionary 1936 film reefer Madness became popular as a one-note joke among the liberal-minded. But for those not high on the sweet smoke, the joke fails to stretch far enough to survive its incarnation as a two-and-a-half-hour musical.
The film has spawned two (count 'em, two!) musical versions, including this award-winning adaptation getting its Canadian premiere at Hart House.
There's nothing glaringly awful about the show. And director Elenna Mosoff 's notes suggest a worthy goal; she claims the production is "about America and the way its government attempts to control populations through images and headlines."
But it takes more than show tunes and cute actors to construct a modern reflection on the most insidiously propagandist nation in the world.
Only in Reefer Madness The Musical would Jesus Christ croon the line "Don't let reefer kick your keister / I'm the poster boy for Easter." And only in RMTM would selling a baby for drug money be played for laughs, along with domestic violence, rape and manslaughter.
For musical fans, including those who enjoy the "Wow, look at the tits!" Vegas factor, Reefer Madness dazzles with its camp. From the gold lamé bikinis to the 50s schlock, it's clear that the producers of the Canadian premiere didn't overlook the crucial importance of sexy costumes and stylization.
Hot accessories aside, the singing and dancing are well executed and choreographed. Benjamin Mehl as reefer-crazy Jimmy and Jennifer Walls as his girlfriend carry the slow-moving narrative with a hyperactive glee that suggests a speed high rather than a bud buzz.
Fortunately, their boundless energy helps a limping script and one-dimensional Americana musical score. The charismatic David Pereira adds an ironic and playful edge to his Jesus Christ.
Still, with so many current examples of vile U.S. propaganda and misguided Christian fundamentalism, it's time to get over the stoner joke and move on to something more substantial.