MGM musicals of the golden age would often see youngsters like Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin deciding to get together and "put on a show" for whatever worthy cause needed fundraising. In many ways the current production of "Reefer Madness - The Musical" reminds one of a similar instance. Here are many exuberant youngsters wanting to call attention to their talent and in need of public support inviting the world to beat a path to their door or, in this case, the door of Mid City Theatre.
The major difference between the MGM musical scenario is that the talent pool of Rooney, Garland, Durbin and company was really, really good. That's not to suggest there isn't some redeeming value in the plot, song structure and execution of the Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney work. It's just that in the hands of the Ampersand Productions staff and crew, there is disappointment in what could have been a campy, over the-top sendup of the fabled 1936 film that assailed the ills of teenaged marijuana smokers.
Director Amanda Francis is not entirely to blame here, although, her title implies the notion that "the buck stops here." Much of what seems to be at work here is a collective mentality, whereby everyone pulls together and helps execute the costumes, the set design, the lighting and sound designs, etc. Although very democratic in temperament, it is usually true that the vision of a director carrying out the wishes of a producer or producers should be more dictatorial or, at the very least, quite autocratic in intent.
The overall feeling is that everyone is trying very hard to make the show work. It's just that the few moments of brilliance seem to shine through a haze of smoke, but not the intoxicating effects of a drug-induced high; more to the point, it's the cloudy, tentative billows of inexperience that choke this show and leave a less than pleasant taste in one's mouth.
Nick Giardina as the Lecturer and Allee Peck as Mae both tender very good performances, each possessing strong vocal skills and motivation, even if it all seems downright silly. Will Hoffpauir as Jesus (yes, that Jesus) also provides wonderful comic relief and strong singing. Tony Coco, as ultimate victim Jimmy Harper, and Charles Regnard, as the nefarious pot pusher character Jack Stone, both execute their roles well, but co-star Linsey Shubert as innocent victim Mary Lane didn't rise to their same level until the second act.
Elyse McDaniel as street-wise Sally executes her part well, showing Jimmy that he can get off in other ways than using pot. Her driving skills prove to have deadly consequences that set into motion a number of other tragic events. Meanwhile Bill Mader, as the maniacal Ralph, shows his brain is as cooked as the weed he's been smoking. After breaking into a church to steal from the poor box, he finds comfort in the frankincense there. And then there's that laugh of his.
While meaning well, the youngsters at Ampersand Productions prove their hearts are in the right place, even if this show smarts from a good deal more planning and rehearsal. Next time one of them says "Let's put on a show!" there is hope they may consider the plan in its entirety. That way they could put their collective best foot forward and have a genuine hit on their hands, not a less-than-spectacular hit in their hands.
To order tickets call Mid City Theatre after 2:00 p.m. most weekdays at 504-488-1460 or click here. The show continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. with matinees on Sundays at 6:00 p.m. through June 22.