When Groovy Was Groovy
So o.k. ~ some shameless self promotion coming your way, poppets. I just can’t help myself. Everyone needs to know about this one.
You know what’s weird, to me, when I stop & think about it? People getting on stage, dressing up & pretending to be someone else for an evening. I found myself pondering this notion last evening, during opening night of Midtown Sheri Grace Productions‘ performance of Reefer Madness: The Hit Musical.
I’m playing guitar in the show’s live band, headed by musical director Robbi Kenney ~ This is the 3rd musical that I’ve done, and I can’t seem to get past the basic sense of wonder at the very act of engaging in musical theater. It’s all so incredibly silly ~ and therein lies the mechanism of catharsis: the ability & desire to laugh at ourselves. I, for one, am all for it.
Reefer Madness started, auspiciously enough, as a church group-funded PSA entitled Tell Your Children ~ a dramatized-for-the-masses 1922 short film dis-informing middle America about the dangers of cannabis, its users portrayed as the lunatic fringe element (worse than Communists) bent on destroying our values & moral, Christian way of life. I know, right?
It didn’t take long for a successful building contractor-turned film industry ingenue named Dwain Esper to snatch up the relatively cheap rights to the film, and employ his unique sense of production & promotion to turn Reefer into an early cult classic. Adding additional scenes to the original, many of which he would shoot & direct himself, he would transform the propaganda piece into a maudlin satire. The added scenes were often lurid, suggestive and, before the 1934 Production Code was passed, downright pornographic. Esper wanted to give his product an enticing, possibly taboo-confronting air that would draw crowds. Well, theoretically.
Esper often rented theaters himself, using outlandish promotional gimmicks in each market to create a hype he knew folks would not ignore. He was largely responsible for making a minor success out of the now cult favorite Freaks (1932), utilizing these proto-guerilla marketing techniques. For a “Hollywood outsider”, you gotta hand it to the guy ~ he made a pretty reasonable living during the Great Depression. I can’t help feeling that there’s a lesson in all of this…
So flash-forward to 1998, when two enterprising writers named Kevin Murphy & Dan Studney found themselves on a road trip, listening to (what else?) Frank Zappa‘s opus, Joe’s Garage. Trying to picture how they might stage the album live, they instead settled on doing an adaptation of the original Reefer Madness film. As the story goes, they’d written the 1st song by the time they’d reached their destination. By the time they’d developed the full script & accompanying musical numbers, they’d turned the cult-classic into a laugh-riot satirical musical that flaunts its self-insistence with a wry smile.
Adopted into movie form by Showtime in 2005 (and thus completing the cosmic cycle of art-imitating-life-imitating-art), Reefer Madness has won its way back into the hearts & lungs of America.
Midtown Sheri Grace Productions, whose namesake has pulled together a local cadre of performers from all disciplines ~ actors, singers, instrumentalists & improv comedians ~ has acquired downtown Charleston’s premier imrov comedy & theater venue, Theatre 99, for two weekend runs. Dwain Esper would be proud.
Join us for cathartic silliness and remember: puff, puff, pass!
A Midtown Sheri Grace Production
Reefer Madness: The Hit Musical @ Theatre 99 ~ 280 Meeting St (above the Bike Shoppe)
Tickets: call 843.853.6687 or etix.com
January 29th ~ 8PM 30th & 31st ~ 10PM
February 5th ~ 8PM 6th & 7th ~ 10PM
Director: Ryan Ahlert
Musical Direction: Robbi Kenney
Choreography: Rachel Hedrick
**Promo Video Link**