This very street, this very town, is in the grip of Reefer Madness. Or so the Lecturer (Mark Fagundes), the pillar of morality, would have us think. Actually, the Conejo Players Theatre is abuzz (first and last pun in this review — promise) with the effects of the cheeky musical that pokes fun at a 1930s propaganda film originally called Tell Your Children. The film depicts how marijuana will drag America’s youth into the gutter and straight on to hell. Think what you will about marijuana, the purpose of this Reefer Madness is to show you a great time, and the exuberant cast and skillful crew succeed wholeheartedly.
The musical, with lyrics by Kevin Murphy and music by Murphy and Dan Studney, takes place in 1936 and centers on Jimmy (Jonathan Markham), the swellest teenager you’d ever hope to meet. He falls for Mary Lane (Hailey Rae Smith), the girl next door, and everything’s hunky-dory until Mary Lane wants to go dancing. Jimmy’s got two left feet but he can’t disappoint his girl, so he innocently turns to a nefarious character/nifty dancer named Jack (R. Shane Bingham) who tells Jimmy he’s got the answer to all his prayers. Jimmy goes to Jack’s run-down house and meets Jack’s moll Mae (Janelle Phaneuf), a crazed stoner named Ralph (Dave Hatfield) and Sally (Abby Cluster), a woman of very ill repute. With one puff of a “jazz cigarette,” Jimmy turns from fresh-faced kid to wild-eyed addict. Jimmy goes on a rampage that’s enough to make the lounge-singing, gold lamé-wearing Jesus (Seth Hackett) and his backup angels blush. Then again, it should be no surprise: Thanks to reefer madness, even Miss Poppy (Deborah Parsons), the kindly waitress at the five-and-dime, has a dark side.
Director James Cluster has been waiting years to direct Reefer Madness and he doesn’t hold back. He and his cast give it all they’ve got. The actors have wonderful chemistry, lovely voices and great comic timing. The members of the chorus play numerous roles apiece — from singing and dancing pot zombies to innocent teens, inmates, angels, cops and, in one case, a devilish goat man (Abel Alderete). The entire cast’s unbridled enthusiasm and sense of fun are contagious and their energy keeps the pace of the show swift and upbeat.
The set, designed by Tim Reese, is rich in color and ambience — and impressive in how effectively it transports us from Mary Lane’s porch to the jailhouse and everywhere in between. Costume designer Elena Mills succeeds in outfitting more than 20 cast members in enough picture-perfect costumes to fill several productions. Choreographer Julie Alice Auxier and co-music directors Erin Fagundes and Bennie Glasner create song and dance numbers that light up the stage. Speaking of lighting design, Jim Diderrich creates just the right mood for every scene, from the bright and happy five-and-dime to the dark and dirty underworld.
The irreverent Reefer Madness will make you laugh and want to sing and dance. Some of the script’s 1930s terminology might make you cringe, but that shouldn’t stop you from surrendering to the grip of Reefer Madness.
Reefer Madness plays through July 31 at Conejo Players Theatre, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. For more information, call 495-3715 or visit www.conejoplayers.org.