(From left Actors Amanda Gray, Jeremy Burke, and Nicole Clark performing in Korda Extension Productions dress rehearsal of Reefer Madness at Kordazone Theatre in Windsor, Ontario, on June 17, 2019. Photo above by Robert Tuomi / Eyes On Windsor.)
Things don’t turn out all that well for Benjamin Harris high school student Jimmy Harper played with cautious enough optimism by Jeremy Burke in the Extension Korda Production of the famed musical based on the 1936 “instructional” film Reefer Madness. Protagonist Harper’s life takes a number of twisted turns, each leading him deeper and deeper into debauchery of the lowest level. It all starts innocently enough when he takes his first puff of a marijuana cigarette.
He quickly finds out the real truth of the damage the demon weed can deliver. It starts out rather close to mundane, with him ending up with most of his clothes on the floor while dancing around singing songs reminiscent of the musical Hair. But he is hooked and the story that develops around his situation is one authorities thought would do nothing if not shock Americans into keeping their distance from the illicit ne’er do well Mary Jane.
This is Extension-Korda’s Youth Players tenth anniversary effort and it is a dandy, a rousing musical with grand chorus numbers and an equivalent amount of dancing. The action never really stops, except for one scene in which the cast expertly and precisely do a number in slow motion, a technique to show just the depraved nature of weed smokers.
In truth the whole production is nothing if not a lampoon of that old propaganda film. Two star crossed teenage lovers, Harper and Mary Lane, played with superb adroitness by Hope Forman, are planning a life together, as teenagers often did, even back in the 1930s. But Jimmy goes astray much to the credit of local pusher Jack, handled with an exquisite lack of fortitude by Joey Wright.
The role of Jack, Joey Wright tells Eyes on Windsor, is his first role as the sinister bad guy in a ten-year association with Korda and it is something he does very convincingly allowing him to test out his dark side. He also doubles as Jesus and expertly brings both characters to proper life, particularly Jesus to which he adds a little twinkle in his eye and enough of a despairing glance when Harper tells him bold out that he “has a new God now.” It is nothing else but a line the propagandists must have loved and which offers a bona fide hint of how marijuana takes over Harper’s very existence, and all to exactly no good.
The musical was stage adapted by Sean Abley, and first saw life on a stage in Chicago in 1992. Extension Korda’s version, based on a later Los Angeles performance, includes all new music, written locally under the direction of the play’s music director Aaron Gasparini.
Regular patrons of Korda Productions will notice a significant change in the orientation of the theatre. The last few productions had the stage at the front of the house. It has been returned to the back which, Lighting Designer Michael Haggart tells Eyes on Windsor, required a full rewiring to reverse the direction of all the lights.
It turns out, lighting is one of the stars of the show. Haggart and his lighting partner Carter Dersch have executed to a high standard using lighting to create the sullen mood as Harper falls deeper and deeper into tangible trouble.
In total there are eleven actors on stage, often all at the same time performing a host of lively songs well-suited to being sung by a chorus. Wright not only plays three roles, the third is George Washington, but is also the play’s director. He has expertly assembled a high-performance cast, one with members talented enough to have good acting instincts, so much that his job only required little more than, as he describes it, “a little push here and there.”
A musical is often judged by the humming of the audience as they leave. Reefer Madness gives them a great deal of material. But that is only one of the benefits of attending this rather spectacular action-packed production. The more important one is its ultra high entertainment value in a fanciful exploration of the argument of instant depravity the government used in its attempt to sway minds away from the demon weed.
As a bonus, the audience will delight in watching stage hand Jacob Giroux, well-dressed in a 1930s suit and hat, silently working his way onto the stage adjusting and changing props. Then there is Mark Worsley who brings incredible authority to his role of the lecturer lecturing about the evils of marijuana. He also does a brilliant US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Sponsors of Reefer Madness include two local craft breweries, Frank Brewing and Walkerville Brewery. As an added treat their products will be available from the refreshment stand.
Extension-Korda is the youth program of Korda Artistic Productions and exists to help young adults take on various production roles.
Reefer Madness: The Musical, at Kordazone Theatre opens June 20 followed by show nights on June 21, 22, 27, 28, 29 and July 4, 5, and 6. Doors open at 7:30pm and the show starts at 8:00pm each night. Tickets are $25 in advance (General Admission); $20 for students and seniors (at the door). Thursday, June 27, will also be Pay-what-you-can but there will be no advanced tickets or reservations for that performance. Otherwise advance online tickets are available at Eventbrite or reserved by emailing email@example.com. Tickets will also be available at the door. For more information visit http://kordazone.com
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.