Reefer Madness or Just Plain Madness (3.5 stars)
by Catherine Collins
Reefer Madness: The Musical Presented by The Winthrop Playmakers; Directed by Patrick Harris; Musical Direction by Joshua Ziemann, Choreographed by Jason Hair-Wynn, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Massachusetts through October 16, 2016. See www.winthropplaymakers.com.
Reefer Madness starts in a high school auditorium, with high school atmosphere and all, complete with pre-show anti-marijuana pamphlets being passed out by the actors, to connect the audience to the theme of the musical of which we were about to partake versus watch. The performance never referred back to said leaflets. In 1936, when marijuana aka reefer was taking over the streets, it was presented as coming straight from the devil, creating evil and completely degenerating to all who smoke it.
The musical is narrated by a Lecturer, played by Chris Mack. He was instantly setting the stage for the propaganda war against drugs in this assembly. Marijuana was presented as evil and scene after scene we were witness to its sullying ways, from sexual content and physical abuse to murder – marijuana had taken this sweet group down a bad path.
The theme was clearly and entertainingly presented by a 14-person ensemble, who each appeared in multiple scenes. The main characters, Mary Lane and Jimmy Harper (Amy Oldenquist and Jason Hair-Wynn), consistently shined. Amy was so lovable, I could feel the audience rooting for her character to get her man – in a Romeo and Juliet happily ever after way. Jason, as Jimmy, was funny, naïve and devilish, and able to showcase the path of a budding drug addict. Marijuana was calling the shots, and he represented that.
This musical wouldn’t be nearly the joy that it was without the characters of Sally and Ralph. Melissa MacNeil as Sally and Damien Dakota LaCount as Ralph were an unsuspecting comedy duo. The characters were well written, but these two performed magically. Melissa MacNeil, an actress worthy of following, was a high note in this musical.
The set was amateurish, with frequent set and costume changes, that distracted from the show. It mimicked an actual high school play, not a theatrical production of a high school musical. The band was elevated to the left of the stage, consisting of five very talented musicians, Josh Ziemann, Brett Walberg, Dan Lewis, Eric Giribaldi and John Grealish. They were timely and connected to the acting, but frequently overpowered the singing – which was a result of the Sound Operator. It was distracting at times as the singers were seemingly struggling to be heard, and the audience struggled to listen.
The production, not the acting, led me to give this 3 of 4 stars. If you’re a fan of local theater and supportive of local talent, I’d recommend seeing this show. It highlights as the Winthrop Playmakers final show before they begin an undetermined amount of time hiatus. The show was fun, the theater was full, and it was entertaining.