A Pot Parody and a Sea Spoof
Having participated in annual showings of the 1966 cinematic gold mine “The Oscar” for years now, I’m not a guy who needs to be convinced of the high-cholesterol pleasures of camp. So. When a musical-theater version of the 1936 marijuana scare flick “Reefer Madness!” comes along, on the same weekend as “Poseidon Adventure: The Musical,” for me that takes care of two playgoing slots straight off.
The makers of “Reefer Madness!"--composer Dan Studney and lyricist Kevin Murphy, who co-wrote the libretto--utilize the basic premise of the hysterically pitched ’36 “instructional.” A stern professorial type (Harry S. Murphy) tells the cautionary tale of a clean-cut innocent (agreeably sappy Christian Campbell) corrupted by weed.
Taking their cue from anti-pot propaganda of the day, Murphy and Studney flesh out “Reefer Madness!” with a chorus of zombie-like, toked-up undead. It’s “Night of the Living Dead,” with the munchies. The film’s lurid incidents are all here (suicide, vehicular homicide, manic turns at the piano), but the musical throws in dismemberment and electrocution.
Rarity of rarities, the show kicks off with a snappy title number, with couplets such as:
Creeping like a Communist
It’s knocking at our doors
Turning all our children
Into hooligans and whores!
Composer Studney samples a swing to disco, from “Hair” (in a really funny orgy sequence) to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” whose influence is all over “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy,” in which Christ Himself (Robert Torti, right on the Vegas money) advises our hero.
Most of Act 1 is a quarter-ton of fun, in the vein of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Act 2’s a deflating comedown, saddled with too many endings and an uncertain sense of how seriously to take America’s history with this particular drug. The show needs revision. But century’s worth of styles, from “Reefer Madness!” is one small-scale musical with potential to get around. As is, it’s helped immeasurably by performers on the period-perfect order of Lori Alan and Erin Matthews, a pair of “reefer sluts.”
By contrast, Theatre-A-Go-Go’s late-night offering is a no-budget, pell-mell goof--but a clever one. (A-Go-Go brought L.A. the stage version of “Valley of the Dolls,” among others.)
It compresses and musicalizes whole unseaworthy chunks of “The Poseidon Adventure,” that highly profitable 1972 Irwin Allen special, in which “an enormous wall of water” went mano-a-mano with an enormous wall of overacting built by the likes of Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters.
Co-writer Bill Robens plays Gene Hackman playing a man of God. Though I’ve never heard anyone “do” Hackman, I’m willing to say this is the finest Hackman available outside the real thing. (Robens’ harried vocal inflections are just right.) A lot of the acting in director Tom Booker’s production is terrible, but in ways that don’t mess up the ambience.
The standout number, written by Kate Flannery: “Turtleneck,” also known as “I’m in Love With Reverend Scott.” The standout supporting performance: Joe Liss, who portrays a creditable Roddy McDowall. And at one point in this buoyantly idiotic outing, an ocean deluge is portrayed by water squirted out of a Super Soaker.
“Reefer Madness!,” Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays, 9 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 10 p.m. Ends June 5. $25. (310) 289-2999. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
“Poseidon Adventure: The Musical,” Theatre-A-Go-Go! at the St. Genesius Theatre, 1047 N. Havenhurst Drive (at Santa Monica Boulevard), West Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Ends May 29. $14.95. (310) 285-4646. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.