Tag: David Wisken

RL Productions Presents REEFER MADNESS

Satirical cult show challenges modern audiences

By Myron My

Reefer Madness was originally a 1939 film intending to dissuade youth from smoking cannabis and highlighting the risks linked to this “pastime”. In 1999, Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney opened their musical version of the show in Los Angeles and 17 years later it is being presented by RL Productions, and the entire time watching, I’m sorry to confess I just kept wondering – why?

Reefer Madness.jpg

While I understand the tongue-in-cheek humour and the satirical nature of the cult show, I simply cannot find any laughs in rape or domestic violence narratives. I will admit that I am not familiar with the film and unsure to what extent it makes these references, but stating women will be raped if they are stoned and watching a female character being physically and verbally assaulted by a male – and played for laughs – is not on. Yes, you can argue that it was in the musical’s book (from 1999), but these issues are so problematic for today’s audience that I felt this production needs to consider and address this in some way.

It is said that Murphy and Studney wrote the first song for Reefer Madness in under five hours, and for me, it shows. The lyrics are simple and obvious, and many of the songs themselves feel more like filler than actually showing us something more of the characters or situation. So “The Brownie Song”, “Romeo & Juliet “and “Lonely Pew” failed to engage me in any way, but that said, under the able musical direction of David Wisken, there are some great songs in there as well, including “The Orgy” and “Listen To Jesus, Jimmy”, in which the performance by Ed Deganos is just brilliant. The choreography by Yvette Lee is also quite noteworthy here and the use of the ensemble in all the musical pieces is well thought-out.

There are some scenes in Reefer Madness that are genuinely entertaining, such as when Jimmy takes his first hit and the penultimate scene in the reefer den. The intelligent direction by Stephen Wheat and lighting design by Jason Bovaird (in particular during the latter scene) was quite effective in creating some emotion from the drama and chaos that was being acted out.

The entire cast is full of energy and committed to their roles, but with all the characters being very one-dimensional I found myself struggling to care for them. Rosa McCarty however, as Mae, has some great moments on stage and manages to bring life to a character that could easily have become another cliché. James Cutler is also great as The Lecturer, bringing laughs to some very dry material with some comedic good timing and body language.

In 1999 Reefer Madness may have had its cult fans and garnered some favourable critical reviews, but for me, in 2016 – and in Australia – this is just a dated and troubled musical that has no redeeming history or context here. There are certainly some laughs to be had, but I was ultimately left mystified as to the reasons for choosing to put on such a show.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
4 December | 7:30pm Tue- Sat, 6pm Sun
Tickets: $49 Full | $55 Conc
Bookings: Chapel Off Chapel

REVIEW: Trifle Theatre company presents AVENUE Q

An unplifting transition into adulthood

By Myron My

Having seen the West End production six years ago (and remembering it strongly), I had high expectations for Trifle Theatre Company’s production of Avenue Q. Furthermore, I had some reservations as to whether it could match the magic of my original viewing, but within the first few minutes that doubt disappeared. We may only be in March but I can confidently say that this will be one of the best shows I see this year.



The story follows a recent college graduate, Princeton (played by Jordan Pollard), who is a little wet behind the ears and entering the “real world”. Moving to Avenue Q (the best he can afford) he gets acquainted with the locals, including Kate Monster (played by Sarah Golding), Trekkie Monster (played by the wonderful Andy McDougall), married human couple Christmas Eve and Brian (Leah Lim and Michael Linder) and Gary Coleman (in a interesting casting choice, played by Zuleika Khan).

What follows is two hours of sharp and witty comedy and laughs as each character works towards finding their way in life. Despite the sexually charged innuendo and racy songs such as “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet Is For Porn”, there is much heart in these stories and that often-confusing transition into adulthood. The whole cast, including the ensemble, work seamlessly with the puppets and manage to create some human emotion through their movements, actions and speech.

Lighting work by Jason Bovaird captures the mood of the characters and the environment brilliantly and the stage design by Jacob Battista authentically replicates a shabby, down-town New York city block. The six piece band however, led by Musical Director David Wisken, are truly amazing in their unseen performance in a separate room to the small stage.

Avenue Q pushes boundaries between clever and lewd and the only way it succeeds is because puppets can get away with a lot more on stage than any actor could. With a big dose of disbelief, it perfectly blends the innocence of a childhood with the scary realisations of adulthood and creates an uplifting and affirming story about change and transition. Director Stephen Wheat should be congratulated on not only creating a show that is on par with its predecessors but also allowing it to form its own individuality and uniqueness.

I am strongly encouraging people to go and see this production, but the whole season has already completely sold out. Guess it really does suck to be you.


Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran

Season: Until 11 April | Tue-Sun 8:00pm, Sat 2:00pm

Tickets: $43.50 Full | $38.50 Conc

Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au or 8290 7000

REVIEW: La Cage Aux Folles

A lavish revisit to a classic musical

By Dean Arcuri

I knew La Cage aux Folles as the show on which The Birdcage was based: a gay couple are shocked when their son announces his pending engagement into a politically traditional family, and a hilarious dinner party filled with mistaken identity, muffled flamboyance and an abundance of cross-dressing ensues. Quirky Productions’ latest approach to the famous musical at the National Theatre had a cast and production team that do not disappoint in presenting a fantastic show.

I particularly tip my hat to the production’s stunning costumes (Isaac Lumins), wigs (David Wisken), lighting (Brad Alcock) and set design that really transformed the space from Parisian streets and a Mediterranean home to the La Cage stage. The simple flamboyance succeeded in elevating the comedy without overshadowing the campness.  In particular, working with depth on the stage of the La Cage allowed the lighting and costumes to really augment the performances.

John O’May’s portrayal of George was a perfect juxtaposition to David Rogers-Smith’s Albin/Zaza, with both deserved the standing ovation they received.  O’May’s voice is hauntingly beautiful, and he played out the emotion in the character with a powerful calm, allowing me to understand, empathise and still be entertained with what is honestly a pretty insensitive plot device used to channel the story along.  Meanwhile Roger-Smith embraced every moment in the spotlight, while never letting us forget the man behind the makeup. His performance of the classic I Am What I Am that closes the first act was filled with raw passion and vocal power, leaving the hairs on the back of my neck to only subside sometime during Act Two.

Juggling camp comedy and emotional empathy is never easy, but both the leads portrayed the passion of their characters and their tender relationship with such strength that it carries their “straight man” son (Reece Budim) whose singing voice certainly counteracted his character’s two-dimensional paternal relationship. Unfortunately the variety of accents of the lower-tier leads distracted from their performances, really leaving these stronger characters to take centre stage.

Special mention must be made of  the ‘ladies’ or Les Cagelles, who really kept us entertained throughout with their energy, passion and ability to move. From the opening the show we soon saw there was more than meets the eye: not just because of what was “tucked away” but because even in visual uniformity their individual performances shone out. It’s a shame their scenes were drowned out by the orchestra leaving great character moments and punch lines by the wayside.  Still, their dance numbers had us transfixed, and applauding along with an abundance of energy and exuberance.

Minor issues aside, the entire musical was thoroughly entertaining, powerful and beautifully performed. If you missed this one, be sure to keep an eye out for Quirky Productions’ future shows.

La Cage aux Folles was performed at The National Theatre from March 16 – 24, 2012