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Thursday, October 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Overcast
Arts
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Where there's smoke...
Reefer Madness: The Musical just says yes to drugs
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The actors are good in their badness.
The actors are good in their badness.
Credit:Colm McCarthy

There is a moment in Reefer Madness: The Musical when dope-demented young rube Jimmy Harper is caught in a sweaty clinch with a sultry siren called Sally. As he eagerly gropes her body he pants into her ear: "I've almost got the catch." With a sly glance to the audience, Sally breathily quips: "I'm not wearing a bra."

This exchange could be a metaphor for Mercury Players Theatre's production. The pleasures of the play are so freely available that the invitation to enjoy them almost seems superfluous.

As the world knows, the musical is based on the unintentionally risible film Reefer Madness, which still brings howls of derision for its absurd portrayal of the supposed evils of marijuana. With its evangelical fervor and McCarthyist politics, the movie begs to be satirized, and in this the present production succeeds admirably.

The script, co-written by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, briskly propels the action, though the scattershot approach could use a little more focus. Unfortunately, Murphy's sharp lyrics and pointed rhymes are undercut by the eminently forgettable tunes of composer Studney, the only true weak point of the show.

Somehow, choreographer Cynthia Severt rises above the mediocre music with routines that are funny, imaginative and downright sexy. She fills the stage with great swaths of motion while incorporating subtleties that, quite frankly, need more than one viewing to truly appreciate.

The actors, almost all of whom are good in their badness, hurl themselves into their roles with the unfettered relish of knowing they can never be too broad. Using every cliché of overacting, they swoon, sway and swagger through the evening with hokey hilarity. The sheer joy of their commitment to this lunacy is a palpable presence in the room. Witty set and lighting design, deliberately phony props, and director Pete Rydberg's breakneck pacing all help.

There are, to be sure, moments when the production creaks a little. Some of the singers struggle to find pitch and tempo, a few minor technical hiccups need to be addressed, and the unremitting action becomes overwhelming at times. But the cast's infectious enthusiasm had the packed Friday-night audience struggling to catch enough breath to hoot and holler their approval of the fleshy delights that were being jiggled before them.

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