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REEFER MADNESS presented by Showbiz Players through Sept. 28. Click here for more information on the production.
This productions of REEFER MADNESS needs more energy and some spit and polish to raise the quality of the show above mids. This is a broad musical comedy that the director and cast should have alot of fun with, but it never quite reached that level for me.
The leads as a whole need to be broader and have more fun. The best characterizations were Julie Wacksman as Mary Lane & Jen Drake as Sally. On the other extremes, I found Greg Shaffer flat as Jack. There was no snap or swagger to the character. Also a mostly-black costume in front of a black-walled set tends to make him disappear. On the other extreme you have Sean Mize as Ralph, a decent characterization expect he only had two levels, loud and obnoxiously loud. The repeated high-pitch screaming into his mic during “Murder” was just too much. Jered Ryan as the Lecturer needs to replace his real glasses with a pair that won’t reflect the stage lights and block his eyes. Also, his facial hair was not appropriate to the period.
Unfortunately for most of the solos, it seems more akin to belt night at a karaoke bar than musical theater. Actors tended to stand near center stage, eyes shut as they reach the high notes of their solo. That’s not creating a character and selling a number.
Across the leads, the actors had a habit of upstaging themselves. Turning their backs to the audiences during solos, being more concerned with acting and singing to the person next to them instead of cheating out to the audience so we can see their faces. Even the “car crash” was staged straight out so the “victim” blocked the faces of the actors in the car. Several songs, including “Jimmy on the Lam” could really have used a spotlight.
An ongoing gag for the show is that the hand-held props are supposed to be two-dimensional. In the very first scene, the coffee mug and Shakespeare book should be flat to let the audience in on the joke, except both items (as is the gun used in the show) are three dimensional objects. When the props are 2D, they all are white with black outlines. The lack of color gives the impression that they are unfinished. Even the baby prop for the song “Lullaby” seems unfinished since it was missing hands and feet/booties.
First-time choreographer Jullian Schwab does a decent job for her first time. For me, numbers were a bit too repetitive, with either the same moves being overly-used in individual numbers and/or being repeated across songs. Given the time frame of the show, I was seeing moves not of the period. On the execution side opening night, there were still performers confused about the steps. You gotta sell it like you know it. I’m less likely to notice a mistake in the choreography than when a mistake shows on an actor’s face. Several times the ensemble didn’t seem to know the focus in musical numbers. Does the number end with the ensemble looking at the soloist or face out to the audience. Either is fine, but I’m seeing both.
One of the dance highlights is Jen Drake’s strong tap solo that gets lost in the rest of the number. It couldn’t hurt to turn that into a brief dance solo (just drop the band and vocals) to showcase it.
The upstaging problems, energy level and choreography execution issues are easy fixes and will make a noticeable improvement in the show. HAVE FUN!
My rating: 2.75 out of 5