When it comes to over the top theatrical shock and insanity, there’s nothing better than the gang at Extension-Korda. Their 2017 production of Evil Dead: The Musical set the bar for sarcastic, retro comedy with outrageous jokes, silly songs and incredible fun. This year they decided to take Evil Dead head on with the sarcastic musical version the 1936 anti-marijuana movie Reefer Madness.
The results are absolutely hilarious and something that has to be seen to be believed.
Joey Wright pulled off an instant hit in his directorial debut. He amassed a great cast, an awesome musical score and the most asinine script I’ve ever seen in live theatre. While nowhere near as bloody as Evil Dead, Reefer Madness was full of everything someone would expect in an exploitation film. From high school students being lured by pushers to try marijuana to a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, hallucinations, and descent into madness due to marijuana addiction, all while being told by narrator/ high school principal Dr. Alfred Carroll (Mark Worsley).
Worsley’s performance is priceless. His dedication to telling the story as straight-laced as possible is almost worth the price of admission alone. Dressed in a suit and waiving an iron fist, he lectures the audience about the story that unfolds before them, attempting to educate and stir the crowd up about the dangers of cannabis use and how the epidemic has spread into their community.
The gist of the story in this raucous musical comedy centers around a tongue-in-cheek look at the hysteria caused when clean-cut kids fall prey to marijuana, leading them on a hysterical downward spiral filled with evil jazz music, sex and violence. Jeremy Burke played the central character, Jimmy, who’s madly in love with his girlfriend Mary Lane, played by Hope Forman (who also doubled as the amazing choreographer of this insatiable masterwork).
Burke was outlandishly funny throughout the entire trip. He started out as a mild-mannered young lad with ambitions of reading Romeo and Juliet with Mary, but as the show progresses, he starts to lose his mind and his identity. With eccentric movements, crazy hallucination scenes and some wicked tunes, Burke was a show-within-a-show all by himself, especially in his first stoned scene – complete with the cast undressing him to what appears to be nothing but a marijuana leaf as he loses his senses. It’s one hell of a fun ride.
The best part of shows like Reefer Madness is the entire ensemble – with Extension-Korda you’re either all in or not part of it – and the cast of Reefer Madness is indeed ALL IN. Actors involved in this musical high are Lizz Dietrich, Joey Wright, Gemma Cunial, Dalton Mugridge, Kimberly Babb, Amanda Gray, Nicole Clark and Vienne Seto. Each one has their own moment and their own chance to shine. It’s basically debauchery at its finest and the entire cast is there to stir it all up.
One of the interesting things about this production is the use of original music recorded by music director Aaron Gasparini. His take on the songs gave the show a campier life and aligned it with shows like Rocky Horror and Evil Dead. I actually couldn’t imagine the show without the music as it was recorded for this production – he should market that soundtrack to other local theatres producing this outlandish musical.
The show is fun, it pushed the limits and it feels like one big high – and local theatre doesn’t get much better than that.
Reefer Madness continues with three final shows this weekend (July 4, 5 and 6) at Kordazone Theatre at 2520 Seminole Street in Windsor.