Review: 'Reefer Madness' at Front Row Centre Players

Vicki Trask

OnStage Calgary Critic

Last week, I had the honour of seeing Front Row Centre Player’s second show of the season, “Reefer Madness”, at its preview performance. I say it’s an honour because I can only expect great things from here on out. I was thoroughly impressed.  

Presented at the Beddington Heights Community Arts Centre, “Reefer Madness” is raunchy, satirical, and an all-around scandalous story about the dangers of marijuana in a wholesome 1930s town. Skillfully led by first-time director Danielle Desmarais – with musical director Chelsea Wellman at her side – this cast of thirteen have created a wonderfully – not-so-family-friendly – entertaining night of theatre.  

First, my compliments to Danielle, who has assembled a talented group of actors to tell her horribly funny story. I laughed, I gasped, I was completely enthralled. Thank you for a great night.

Our leading man, Jimmy Harper, is played by Forrest Tymchuk, a new comer to musical theatre. I thought his physical character moments were spot on. He embodied Jimmy’s ticks and movements. I wanted more from him: bigger movements, a bigger physical change as the act goes on. It can only get better. That being said, I wasn’t blown away by Forrest’s singing. His technique was a little weak but you know what? It wasn’t a deal breaker for me. His acting made up for anything else.

Our female lead, Mary Lane, played by Jamie Robinson left much to be desired. Having the opposite problem as her counterpart, I felt she was too animated and goofy for the sweet and innocent little Mary Jane…I mean Mary Lane. While Mary’s transformation is a lot more sudden than Jimmy’s, I didn’t notice a change in Jamie at all. I won’t deny that this actress has talent but I didn’t see Mary Lane on that stage, I saw Jamie. 

Janos Zeller is an actor I have had the pleasure of watching perform for many years. I’ve always loved seeing him on stage because no matter what, he seems to enjoy what he’s doing. As the Lecturer in this production, Janos leads the audience through the story with costume changes, laughs, and more than one improvised aside. It is a role well suited to this man’s talents. 

Michael Brown is a name I haven’t heard in, what feels like years. I was so happy to see him again, this time as the angel and devil on Jimmy’s shoulder: Jack Stone/Jesus. He was equal parts brutish and sassy; a perfect match for his counterpart Mae, played by Lindsey Paterson. She was hilariously overdramatic and I loved every moment she was on that stage. 

The other two characters in the den of sin are Riley Galarneau as Ralph Wiley and Tanis Laatsch as Sally. Both actors perpetually blow me away with their talent; Tanis’ voice is stunning and Riley had me stitches the entire time. I have nothing but admiration for these performers. 

And then we come to the ensemble. My only criticism is that there weren’t enough of them. Every one of these actors is gifted at bringing life to a scene but in big crowds and dance numbers, the stage felt empty. Part of that emptiness I will attribute to choreographer Jeffery Diodati. The steps that he chose made sense; they worked well and were executed cleanly, but his blocking felt uneven and while more bodies would have helped fill the space, I don’t think he used his dancers as best as he could. Ashlyn Beatty, Jenna Fraser, and Christine Mooney are all angels – literally – and a pleasure to watch on stage, while Dan Derksen, Thompson Harper, and Christopher Mavin showed just enough skin to divide my focus. But in all honesty, the six of them were well paired – though it never hurts to keep training – and despite their small numbers, they told a great story together.

From a technical aspect, I have no complaints. Kristine Astop’s set design was practical and functional, and the lighting design by Thomas Geddes and sound design by Rahim Manji were well balanced. I am perpetually amazed by Sandy Forbes’ costume design – especially the opening costume, it blew my mind. When paired with makeup design by Shannon Beshara, everyone on that stage looked fabulous.

I admit I really enjoyed my time at “Reefer Madness”. I laughed harder than I have in a really long time and the production that FRC has presented is worthy of multiple visits.

Congratulations to the cast and crew: you have a great show on your hands.

“Reefer Madness” will be playing until January 21st at the Beddington Heights Community Arts Centre so I suggest you get your tickets now.