Christian Campbell, Gregg Edelman and Michele Pawk lead the cast of the cult film-based musical spoof, Reefer Madness, which officially opens Oct. 7 at Off-Broadway's Variety Arts Theatre. The was had been scheduled to begin previews Sept. 15 but changed its start, owing to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on lower Manhattan's World Trade Center, to Sept. 18.
The campy musical comedy, with music by Dan Studney, lyrics by Kevin Murphy, and a book by the duo, has, by most accounts, a Little Shop pop-style score. The show is based on a 1936 film drama that was meant as a cautionary tale to keep young people away from marijuana. Over the years, the movie's exaggerated acting, ham-fisted dialogue, one-sided viewpoint and medically questionable storyline turned it into a cult favorite of grade-Z movie lovers — not to mention potheads, who'd line up for midnight showings and watch the flick through a vale of smoke and a pile of munchies.
James Nederlander, Jr. is the lead producer, co-producing with Verna Harrah, in association with Nathaniel Kramer. Designing the show are Walt Spangler (set), Dick Magnanti (costumes), Robert Perry (lighting) and Lew Mead (sound). David Manning serves as musical director.
Reefer Madness lit up the West Coast, winning five Ovations, including Ensemble and Best Musical in a Small Theatre; and seven L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards, including outstanding production (a tie with Interact's The Cherry Orchard), Musical Score, Lead Performance (for Campbell). Direction and Choreography.
Director Andy Fickman has again been tapped to roll Reefer, with pop star Paula Abdul again signed on as choreographer. A winner of two Emmys, Abdul has supervised dance work on the Oscars, "The Tracy Ullman Show" and such films as "Jerry McGuire" and "Coming to America." Christian Campbell, who starred in the L.A. mounting of Madness, will again play Jimmy, the clean-cut kid who takes one toke of weed and plunges into a maelstrom even Dennis Hopper would fear. Anna Karenina and City of Angels star Gregg Edelman co-stars, alongside Seussical's Michele Pawk, who plays Mae, "Hostess of the Reefer Den." Also in the cast are Kristin Bell, John Kassir, Erin Matthews, Robert Torti, Roxanne Barlow, Andrea Chamberlain, Robert Gallagher, Jennifer Gambatese, Paul Leighton, Michael Seelbach and Molly Zimpfer.
Asked about the content of Reefer Madness, producer Nederlander told syndicated columnist Cindy Adams (July 2), "It's a cross between Little Shop of Horrors and `Leave It To Beaver.'" He also mentioned that the show's original cast recording will be released by DreamWorks.
In a Playbill On-Line Brief Encounter interview, actor Edelman praised director Fickman's openness throughout the rehearsal process: "What's so great about Reefer Madness is that although it had a really successful run in L.A., Andy [Fickman], our director, is saying, `Listen, I know we had a really successful production in L.A. But everybody here is free to create this show from scratch.' That makes you very comfortable with coming into a project that had another life. You don't want to feel that you're just being plugged in. For example, today I came up with some sort of pratfall; they were laughing hysterically and so happy I'd come up with something that funny. It brings the whole company closer together."
According to production spokesperson Richard Kornberg, the company has also been coming together to dismiss protests by the Musicians Union over the use of non-union musicians in the show. Local 802 had filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the producers allegedly screening out musicians with union credits, with the producers paying the Reefer band 25 percent less than the members would get at other shows at the Variety Arts. But, says Kornberg, producer Nederlander's contractual deal with the American Federation of Musicians deals only with his Broadway shows and not his first Off-Broadway venture.
One Local 802 flyer reads: "Shame on the producers of Reefer Madness. For years the professional musicians of Local 802 have fattened the wallets of the Nederlanders with Broadway performances that draw crowds from all over the world. Now the Nederlanders are using this wealth on an expensive union-busting lawyer to help them discriminate against union musicians... Boycott Reefer Madness.
"They have no jurisdiction here," Kornberg told PBOL. "They come with their leaflets and the big rat... The cast all posed in front of it, and the police unblew the rat."
For tickets ($20-$60) and information on Reefer Madness at the Variety Arts Theatre, 110 Third Ave., call (212) 239-6200. After every Thursday night performance, the original "Reefer Madness" movie will be screened.
—By David Lefkowitz