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LA Theater Review

Reefer Madness, The Musical

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Based on the Z-grade 1936 morality film warning parents of the dangers of "the leafy green assassin," Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney's musical version, which opened Off-Broadway in 2001, is an absolute hoot. A hardcore pusher named Jack Stone (Robert Dean Nunez) roams the local five-and-dime store, trolling for new young prospects. He zeroes in on Jimmy Harper (Tyler McGraw), a naive high-school teen who becomes hooked on reefer, quickly going "from good egg to bad apple." Jimmy's pure-at-heart girlfriend, Mary Lane (Emily Lopez), eventually loses her virtue because of weed, putting the play's basic plot line in the same camp as The Rocky Horror Show—and camp this is, as Jimmy's first high is depicted as a wild orgy led by an insatiable satyr and seminude men and women whose skimpy costumes are marijuana leaves.

Studney's tunes cover a wide range of musical genres, but Murphy's hilarious lyrics power the show. Confined to the Maverick's rather tight cabaret-theater confines, Curtis Jerome's staging hits most of the right highs in a show where over-the-top is the norm. McGraw is the typical decent young kid, while Lopez's sunshiny Mary is deliberately one-dimensional. Nunez could use a harder, more sinister edge as Jack, but Patti Cumby and Aleesha McNeff shine as, respectively, Jack's moll Mae, fighting to do right by Jimmy, and Sally, who prostitutes herself to raise drug money, even selling her own baby. As "The Lecturer" who warns the PTA's parents (we in the audience) about the evils of weed, Mike Martin does yeoman's work in a variety of roles, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jerome and music director Benjamin Sagan's staging of the musical numbers is top-notch and deliberately corny, augmented by the show's talented and hard-working seven-person ensemble, a versatile, five-piece offstage band, Jerome's set design, and Brian Newell's sound and lighting design. Much of the show's visual style, including Jerome's costumes, have more of a 1950s edge and feel than the show's purported era of 1930s Depression America. Even at that, this is the kind of campy show fans of Rocky Horror and Urinetown will happily inhale.

Presented by and at the Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Suite B, Fullerton. June 12Aug 2. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 and 8 p.m. (714) 526-7070 or www.mavericktheater.com.

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