Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney's stage musicalization of the 1936 cautionary film-cum-cult classic is a hoot and holler and a half, amplifying the film's earnest "warning" to kids and parents alike about the dire effects of reefer through a racy, R-rated libretto by Murphy and Studney; Murphy's thoroughly sidesplitting, often deliberately campy lyrics; and musical styles by Studney, ranging from Depression-era jazz, swing, and gospel to '50s and '60s rock. The Orange County premiere, following Broadway and Los Angeles productions as just the third so far, is all the better for pulling out all the stops. Director K.C. Mercer is ably aided by choreographer Jennifer Goldstein, musical director Brian Dehn, and a quintet of assistant directors and choreographers, plus a virtual army of technical support (seamstresses, artists, musicians, technical directors, and more).
Mercer puts himself in the crucial role of Jack, the sleazy, smooth-talking small-time operator of a marijuana-ridden den of iniquity in Everytown, USA — a role scripted to be doubled with the role of a Jesus who promises our hero he's going to hell in a hand basket for falling prey to the pleasures of pot. Goody-goody hero Jimmy's wholesomeness is accentuated by Bobby Traversa's ingenuous looks, slight build, juvenile-sounding voice, and, after succumbing to weed, guilty desperation — all well-matched by Kalinda Gray as Jimmy's equally virginal girlfriend, Mary. The Reefer Den is populated by a trio of pot fiends (the deliberately over-the-top Patti Cumby, Terri Mowrey, and Robert Dean Nu単ez). Marlana Filannino is aptly artless as the Placard Girl, displaying (and reading) title cards that act as exclamation points to the show's ghoulish glee toward insanity, murder, and cannibalism, and its general irreverence. Though he fulfills multiple roles, Peter E. Miller as The Lecturer doesn't work in the same campy, stylized vein as his cast mates. Otherwise, the staging is awash in talent, from its versatile chorus (five women, five men) to the suitably splashy visual look led by costume designer Cynthia Ryanen, set designer Jon Gaw, and lighting designer Jeremy "Bug" Ojeda. All contribute to a show that's the funniest thing to come down the pike — or the pipe — in a while.
Presented by and at Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. Sun. 6 p.m. Sep. 22-Oct. 29. $18. (714) 525-4484. www.stagesoc.org.