As wild and crazy as we can make it
by Rob Howard
“We want the audience to ‘take the trip’ with the cast,” says Michael Karraker, the director of Wichita’s Roxy’s Downtown production of the zany musical spoof "Reefer Madness". And what a trip it’s going to be. The musical is based on, or rather inspired by, the 1936 film of the same name.
To give some context, Karraker talked about the film. “'Reefer Madness' was a propaganda film in the ‘30s put out by William Randolph Hearst, saying marijuana was the worst thing in the world that anybody could try. The film was shown everywhere.” He says the basic message was if you take one hit of marijuana you would become “like a crack addict.”
“This show is a musical spoof of that, and it takes it to the Nth degree.” The over-the-top, campy story begins with a Lecturer informing the audience of the new drug menace, marijuana. He tells a story of a young high school student whose life is turned upside down by the “demon weed.” The student, Jimmy, spends all of his time in the Reefer Den ignoring his family, school and, most importantly, his girlfriend. Jimmy's sudden addiction even draws the interest of a Tom Jones-like portrayal of Jesus.
That character performs Karraker’s favorite number, "Listen to Jesus, Jimmy", in which Jesus tries to get Jimmy to see the error of his ways. The whole production is filled with songs and production numbers. Other favorites of the director are "The Stuff", “which is very melodramatic and campy,” and "The Orgy", which he says has a great dance scene, with a mix of modern movement, and which “is very tribal and tiki-torch-ish.”
Karraker says, “We’re trying to make this immersive. I want much of the ensemble to be out in the house. We want the audience to take the trip with the cast.” He says the cast even turns into Zombies at one point.
The Lecturer is played by Kyle Vestestad, one of Roxy’s favorite performers. Jimmy is played by Daniel Hughes; Mary, Jimmy’s girlfriend, is played by Jessica Curtiss; and Mae is played by Kelly Wonsetler. There are eight main cast members and several ensemble members, the largest cast that Roxy’s has ever had.
Karraker is excited about "Reefer Madness". He says, “It’s going to be as wild and crazy as we can make it. The lighting is incredible; the set design is incredible. It is going to be a very strong show.”
Roxy’s owner, John Hammer, says the musical is “a show I’ve been wanting to do, and the time was right for the 2016 season. The music is exceptionally good, and it’s edgy enough to attract a lot of people.”
Roxy’s Downtown is an intimate cabaret theater. Hammer says his mission is to move more into a performance arts venue that goes beyond just musical theatre. Roxy’s has a “nice appetizer and dessert menu, and of course a fully stocked bar,” says Hammer.
"Reefer Madness" opens October 7 and runs through October 29 every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Tickets range from $20 to $30, and are available by calling (316) 265-4400. You can view Roxy’s other shows, seating and more at www.roxysdowntown.com. Roxy’s Downtown is at 412 1/2 E. Douglas, in Wichita.