November 20, 2001

Studney's smokin' Reefer

Out composer Dan Studney talks about his musical version of the '30s film Reefer Madness -- and its adorable lead, Christian Campbell
by Joe E. Jeffreys

Dan Studney is high, and no wonder: His musical Reefer Madness looks to be a hit. A wild, fast-paced musical parody inspired by the 1936 antimarijuana film of the same name, Madness has generated powerful buzz in Los Angeles -- where it premiered three years ago and won several Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards -- and in New York, where it recently opened off-Broadway. "It's the little show that could," Studney tells The Advocate.

Studney's rockin' pastiche of a score shares credit with Paula Abdul's driving choreography and a head-turning lead performance by Christian Campbell, Neve's brother, who's best known to gay audiences as the star of the hit indie film comedy Trick. With his angelic face, Campbell seems fated to play young Jimmy Harper, whose life is ruined by one toke of the demon weed.

Equally important to the show is Studney's artistic partnership with director Andy Fickman and lyricist Kevin Murphy -- straight guys who good-naturedly razz the openly gay Studney throughout our talk. Fickman starts it, joking that lots of disputes in mounting the show were a "gay-straight thing." Studney hits back: "I've had lovers less gay than these guys. You should see their collections of signed Stephen Sondheim cast albums." On cue, Murphy jumps in: "Hey, dude, back off. It's just for the collector's value."

Friends from their days as college theater majors, Studney and Murphy began their descent into Madness during a long California road trip, listening to a Frank Zappa CD and imagining a stage adaptation. A thought hit Studney: Why hasn't anyone made Reefer Madness into a musical? Ideas flowed; several months later they were workshopping the show.

The Campbell connection came about through Studney's "day jobs" writing for television. One day on the set of Party of Five, he mentioned his musical to star Neve Campbell. "She said she had a brother who'd be great," Studney remembers. "Yeah, yeah, I thought, everybody's got a brother. But then she introduced us. Christian had dimples you could spackle, and he could sing like all get-out."

A devoted joker, Studney easily falls in line with the show's over-the-top sensibility. He attended the New York premiere in what he calls a "glam-rock Mozart-type outfit": black lipstick, powdered wig, ruffled shirt, and crushed velvet pants. "I sat in the second row, and the cast could see me," he chuckles, "but most had no idea who I was."

Madness even brought Studney his boyfriend, Jesse; the two met when Jesse began working on the crew of the L.A. production. As to his contribution to the show as a gay man, Studney quips, "Look at the boys we've cast. That's where my influence comes in handy."

Jeffreys has written for periodicals including Lambda Book Report and OutWeek.
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