Reefer Madness!

"Divertingly silly... offers plenty of entertainment on its own appealingly unpretentious terms, with a sweetly charming retro-rock score and a sublime cast of actors giving delectable performances in deliciously ridiculous roles. Best of all, in contrast to the more self-satisfied "Bat Boy" and "Urinetown," "Reefer Madness" wears its foolishness lightly, making no claims to comment on the musical genre itself."

Christopher Isherwood, Daily Variety 10/8/01

"[The cast] includes the very talented musical veterans Gregg Edelman as the evangelical narrator and Michele Pawk, as the Joan Crawfordesque den mother to a clan of potheads. Christian Campbell and Kristen Bell pump lots of cheerful energy into representing traditional ingénue eye candy. Mr. Torti, who plays both Jesus and the show's dapper villain, works comic wonders with his arrogant grin and frozen, cock-of-the-walk stances. He's a testament to the virtues of overstated understatement."

Ben Brantley, New York Times 10/08/01

"[Reefer Madness is] a show with the potential to tick off political leaders across the country, especially at this sensitive juncture. But for the laughing, cheering theatergoers who attended a preview last week of the new off-Broadway musical Reefer Madness, which opened Sunday at the Variety Arts Theatre, these shenanigans were clearly just what the doctor ordered... [the] songs and script carry the nothing-is-sacred philosophy espoused by current musicals such as The Producers and Urinetown to a new level. There is something here to offend everyone, even those who share the creators' view that the legal prohibition of marijuana is a sure step on the path to totalitarian oppression" On the other hand, I doubt that even the staunchest opponent of mind-altering substances could resist entirely the effects of this delirious romp, which at its best reaches highs of intoxicating goofiness. As this entertaining show should help remind us, the freedom to be controversial, troubling or silly in artistic expression is part of what distinguishes us from those who wish to end our laughter permanently."

Elysa Gardner, USA Today 10/08/01

"Meant to be a serious documentary on how the demon weed turns apple-cheeked American teens into hollow-eyed homicidal zombies, the movie's unintentional humor made it a midnight movie staple on college campuses in the '60s. But while the movie is so glaringly bad, the Off-Broadway musical of "Reefer Madness," which opened last night at the Variety Arts Theater, is deliberately outlandish and silly. And that's what makes it so good" [the show includes] a dozen or so over-the-top and hilarious production numbers. The breezy songs range from Broadway productions (choreographed by Paula Abdul) to a cheesy Vegas-style number that features Jesus (Robert Torti) in spandex and sequins leading a chorus of showgirl angels. "I'm here to help you, Jimmy, and return you to the fold/Try filling your lungs with God, and not Jamaican Gold," Jesus sings. It's one of the funnier moments in a show that's a giggle-stick from beginning to end."

Robert Dominguez, New York Daily News 10/09/01

"Gleefully over-the-top... [Kristen] Bell's wide-eyed Mary is the ingenue-est ingenue you'll ever see -- at least until reefer transforms her into a belt-wielding sex fiend -- while [Robert] Torti conveys exactly the right amount of smug satisfaction as the play's corruptor-in-chief. And while the busy choreography of Paula Abdul (yes, that Paula Abdul) would have fared better on a bigger stage, Robert Perry's inspired lighting and Andy Fickman's sure-handed direction hold the line between artful madness and plain chaos."

Webster Younce, Time Out 10/15/01

"Aggressively silly and often surreal, the musical is a great deal of fun." (B-)

Gillian Flynn, Entertainment Weekly 10/15/01

"[Reefer Madness] overflows with fizzy fun. Under the direction of Andy Fickman, it achieves a cartoonish frenzy that ridiculously heightens the primary-color morality of the original film. Christian Campbell, playing the hero who falls under marijuana's insidious spell, proves himself a master of quick-change comedy, flipping between dimpled Goody Two-shoes and spastic fiend with such intensity and physical abandon that you can't help but be won over. As his paramour, Kristin Bell is all sugar and spice, with an equally sweet voice, and Michele Pawk brings some fire to Mae, the harlot with a heart of gold. Robert Torti, double cast as a drug dealer and a sequined Jesus, may only have one note - insouciantly cocky - but it's a very funny note."

Gordon Cox, Newsday 10/08/01

"[Reefer Madness] is designed for a young audience, and it works overtime to dress up its concept with as much hip shtick as librettists Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney can hallucinate. They've dreamed up a pretty funny script. When the trampy blonde of the show introduces herself by saying "What a night! I was in more laps than a napkin," you sit up and take notice. The first rate cast works the show like a communal roach, getting every last puff of laughter out of the material. Gregg Edelman establishes the carefully calibrated, high camp tone and leads the laugh parade with his wickedly sly performance as "The Lecturer" who uses the play-within-the-play to show us the horrors of reefer" Kristen Bell, who plays Jimmy's sweet little girlfriend, Mary, has a wonderfully offbeat charm. Robert Torti is a delicious ham both as the reefer-selling villain, Jack, and the slick, strutting Jesus. The latter character is a real crowd-pleaser, especially when Torti goes out into the audience and invites people to touch him" Michele Pawk as Mae, Jack's girlfriend and the hostess of the reefer den, grounds her character in real emotion "and she gets big laughs precisely because the humor is coming from a real place" Dick Magnanti"s costume designs and Paula Abdul's choreography enhance the flamboyantly camp aspects of the show" Andy Fickman directs Reefer Madness with a lot of verve.

Barbara & Scott Siegel, Theatremania 10/9/01

"Murphy and Studney's score varies in tone and style throughout, always highlighting moments in the most appropriate (or effectively inappropriate ways). The show's title song is tragic, dark, and blaring, while Jimmy and Mary's big ballad, "Romeo and Juliet," seems to contain every musical cliché rolled into one number. The big dance numbers for the cast are appropriately corny, while even some of the more traditional fare lands as well, and the revival numbers for Jesus and his chorus of angels truly must be seen to be believed. The book matches the score every step of the way. Andy Fickman's direction is strong and funny. Walt Spangler's colorful (if esoteric) set design, Robert Perry's splashy, colorful lights, and Dick Magnanti's attractive (and frequently outrageous) costumes provide perfect support."

Matthew Murray, Talking Broadway 10/7/01

"Reefer Madness is a rollicking good time. The show pleasantly reminded me of Bat Boy "the campy spirit and splashy production values are very similar. I don't think this is a case of one influencing the other. Rather, the shows are fellow travelers, both kneeling at the triple altar of comedy, camp and rock. Yes, these shows are both demented grandchildren of Rocky Horror; it's just more obvious in Reefer Madness than Bat Boy. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. The authors of this new Reefer Madness are both mining the movie's native camp value and wickedly satirizing the insidious propagandizing impulse behind it."

Jonathan Warman, HX 10/18/01

"Deliriously, rapturously over the top" creators Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, along with director Andy Fickman and choreographer Paula Abdul (yes, you read that right), have fun subverting and paying homage to B-movie conventions" The pop-based score is appropriately hyper, and lots of fun. Studney's music is very tuneful, and Murphy"s lyrics are just plain wrong (which I mean in the best sense of the term). Director Fickman and his designers' Walt Spangler (sets), Robert Perry (lights), and Dick Magnanti (costumes) "have created the kind of (ridiculously funny) hellish, drug-den netherworld you'd expect the Lecturer to show the high schoolers. And, Abdul's choreography is terrific. She comfortably fills the cozy Variety Arts stage with an ensemble of four to six (in addition to the principals), and energetic, good old fashioned dancing. Abdul knows how to build and execute a production number, and I, for one, am glad to see that. Reefer Madness is yet another example of a new musical returning to a tried-and-true form "musical theatre dance" that there's been a dearth of on New York stages for far too long" Go check out Reefer Madness, and fall under its enticing spell."

Michael Criscuolo, NY Theatre 10/10/01

"Torti, with his razor-sharp goatee, makes a delightfully smarmy Jesus and is also pleasurably evil as the nefarious Jack. Pawk, back in her "Cabaret" fright-mask makeup after a stint in "Seussical," is gloriously over-the-top as the degraded but good-hearted Mae. Matthews makes the lewd most of her less well-defined role as the bad blond, and John Kassir rounds out the cast of degenerates nicely as a wolf-like frat brother. As the sweet kids gone to seed, Bell and Campbell are best of all, bringing to bouncing life with utter conviction these all-American paper dolls. Bell has a strong, piercing soprano and thousand-watt grin that grows delightedly lascivious when she strays into dark territory in an S&M duet with Ralph. And Campbell, contorting his Mickey Mouse Club mug into a frenzied leer and manipulating his small frame in amazing ways as the poison works its way through his system, is a constant delight to watch. In its own determinedly ludicrous way, Campbell's Jimmy is as accomplished a comic performance as any on a New York stage right now."

Charles Isherwood, Daily Variety 10/08/01

"Though set in 1936, the year of the film's release, Madness cannily incorporates musical styles ranging from jazz and doo-wop to rock and disco, and it provides characters that are accessible to young audiences even as they parody old-fashioned stereotypes. The show's virginal sweethearts, Jimmy and Mary -- played by Christian Campbell and Kristen Bell with a swell mix of squeaky innocence and snarky knowing -- could have been lifted out of a '50s TV series; Gregg Edelman's stern, oafish narrator is just as drolly anachronistic. As the dastardly drug dealer Jack and his ''junked-up chippie,'' Mae, Robert Torti and Michele Pawk infuse sleazy clichés with winking irony. And Erin Matthews deftly plays Sally, the buxom blonde who lures Jimmy into Jack and Mae's clutches, as the missing link between Mae West and Reese Witherspoon."

Elysa Gardner, USA Today 10/08/01

"[The songs] are written in the retro vein of "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Grease," with simple, nifty melodies matched to infectious rhythms. Highlights include a lyrical duet for the young lovers, "Romeo and Julet," and a camp extravaganza, "Listen to Jesus, Jimmy," in '60s rock-gospel mode, featuring Torti doubling as a bespangled, Vegas-style savior seeking to save the erring Jimmy's soul ("I'm here to help you, Jimmy/And return you to the fold/Try filling your lungs with God/And not Jamaican Gold")."

Christopher Isherwood, Daily Variety 10/8/01

"The battle of the no-holds-barred, nothing-is-sacred musicals continues here in New York City with the opening of Reefer Madness at the Variety Arts Theatre. Adapted from the 1936 propaganda film of the same name, it shares Batboy"s campiness, and Urinetown's tastelessness, while topping both shows in each of those categories. It's also much looser, and not quite as polished as either of those two shows, but it"s still a knockout, nonetheless."

Michael Criscuolo, NY Theatre 10/10/01

"Reefer Madness is uncommonly enjoyable and entertaining. You'll have little to fear from the "leafy green assassin" while you're seated at the Variety Arts. And while you may not learn much about marijuana you can apply to your every day life, you'll be exposed to plenty of good humor and music, something everyone should be willing to take a puff on now and then."

Matthew Murray, Talking Broadway 10/7/01

"Starring as apple-cheeked Marijuana-deflowered youth Jimmy Harper is the edibly adorable Christian Campbell, who's even more gorgeous and dimply in the flesh than he is on film (remember trick?). Then there's the manlier goateed Robert Torti, whose sexiness and charisma make pusher baddie Jack genuinely seductive. Torti also doubles as a razzle-dazzle Jesus, and his muscular presence and flirty audience glad-handing left me high."

Jonathan Warman, HX 10/18/01

"The cast is excellent all around. Campbell is believable and funny in his all-too-improbable transformation from clean-cut kid to drug-addicted lunatic. Kristen Bell is wonderful as Jimmy's virginal girlfriend, Mary. She has a beautiful voice, and is a very strong actor. Her Act I solo, "Lonely Pew," in which Mary laments Jimmy"s absence beside her at church, is intended to be another source of laughs, but Bell's conviction turns it into a genuinely moving moment. Edelman has fun and hams things up beautifully as the Lecturer (who also performs utility roles in the play-within-a-play). The priceless Michele Pawk cuts a comic, sexy swath as Mae, Hostess of the Reefer Den. And, Robert Torti slays the audience doing double duty as Jack, the dope-pusher, and the most, cocky, swaggering, lounge-singing (not to mention Jewish) Jesus Christ ever portrayed on stage or screen. John Kassir and Erin Matthews also stand out as Ralph, the resident frat-boy dope addict, and Sally, the Reefer Slut."

Michael Criscuolo, NY Theatre 10/10/01

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