Does Reefer Cause Madness at SMT? Meh.

Musical Theatre Review

Ok, let me start this post by saying that I saw Seattle Musical Theatre’s Reefer Madness on opening night, and it’s taken me this long to write the review because it’s taken this long for me to process what it was that I saw.

Some shows are great, some shows are awful, and then there are shows with so much wrong with them that they are downright laughable, and sadly the latter was my experience with this production of Reefer Madness.

This show, this opening night show, was no where near ready for an audience.  I kept checking my program throughout the show and even checked in with friends at intermission to make sure we weren’t watching a preview.  But nope, it was opening night.  The tech for this show was the worst offense.  Mic levels all over the place, running the gamut between mics completely going out on actors to screeching and hissing at us when actors were belting out notes.  Lights were a hot holy mess, many actors left to sing or act in complete darkness while specials gleamed brightly over empty stage space.  Not sure if it was a bad call or a bad cue, but it was friggin irritating.

The music sounded great.  Let me clarify, the band sounded great, but led by Josh Zimmerman, we know to expect nothing less.  But the voices of the cast on the other hand, yeah, not so great with the exception of two performers:  Larissa Schmitz as Sally and Benjamin Cournoyer as Ralph.  Ms. Schmitz has pipes for days, and Mr. Cournoyer’s character came right through his songs, and I thoroughly enjoyed both of their voices. Everyone else, pretty much forgettable, with one voice that just grated on me throughout the show: Mary Lane (eventually Mary Sunshine), played by Allyson Jacobs-Lake.

Ms. Jacobs-Lake has the voice of a 5 year old child, and I have no idea if this is actually her speaking voice, of if she chose this affectation, but either way it is completely wrong for the character of Mary Lane.  It was just not ok.  It might work for characters like Little Sally in Urinetown, but unless the character is supposed to be a little girl, which Mary Lane is not, and Mary Sunshine is definitely not, this vocal choice just gave the character a creepy-pedophilic-feel to it all and it just icked me out to no end.  It also didn’t translate to her songs, because some she kept the baby voice, and others she tried to belt out.  High pitched voices with a harsh edge can work, a la Ellen Greene or Kristin Chenoweth, but they still sound like grown women.  Not the case in this show, so it just didn’t work.

Acting wise, the narrator couldn’t keep his character voices straight, the on-stage slaps were laughably bad, and…ya know what, I’m not even going to go into this any further, because I could write for days about how weak the acting was, but why bother? Because honestly, this is my third show at SMT, and it seems to be the way of things to have one or two solid performances surrounded by people phoning it in, so I’ll just say the acting lined up with the music.  Kudos again to Mr. Cournoyer and Ms. Schmitz for complete character development and commitment to those characters. Thank you for being shining stars in this otherwise mediocre production.

Perhaps the tech issues threw the cast.  Perhaps the cast was under-rehearsed.  Perhaps they just were poorly directed.  I don’t know what the driver was, but what I do know is that this production was not ready for an audience, and I cannot believe a director would allow that amount of mess to go up as an opening night show, so I lay that responsibility at the feet of director, Steven Fogell.  There were so many moments where actors were set up to fail during this performance, and I was seriously disappointed for the cast.

I’ve heard that the shows have gotten better as opening weekend continued, so maybe by second weekend all will be ok.  Reefer Madness is a fun show, for those of you who don’t know, based on early 20th century American propaganda about the dangers of marijuana.  It follows a good, young christian man, Jimmy, on his fall from grace into a hell, taking those he loves with him, all thanks to the demonic power that marijuana unleashes on him.  This musical pokes fun at it in a clever, wisecracking way, complete with snappy/catchy tunes that will stick in your head, whether you want them to or not.  It should be a light, whimsical, fun night of theatre.  For me, it was a technical mess with surface-level acting, and strange casting that left me really only enjoying the voices of the people around me who were singing along.  And that’s not ok.

I give this an eye roll, and an unenthusiastic ‘meh’ instead of applause, because there really wasn’t much to clap for on the night I saw this.  I should have left at intermission.

Reefer Madness plays through October 30th, and ticket and show information can be found on Seattle Musical Theatre’s website.

Ciao for now,

M lg

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