Thursday, March 11, 2021


Joanna Myers, Anita Keal, Randi Kallan, Edward Penn, Robin Field.
SPEED GETS THE POPPYS [Musical/Animals/Drugs/Family] B: Lila Levant; M: Lorenzo Fuller; L: Lorenzo Fuller, Lila Levant; D/CH: Charles Abbott; S/C/L: Milton Duke; P: Daffodil Productions; T: Mercer-Brecht Theatre (OB); 7/26/72-7/30/72 (7)

A propagandistic, anti-drug musical aimed at young audiences, many of whom were to be bought to the performance through an arrangement with New York City. It presents the story of a young, 19th-century farm family named Poppy. There is the father (Edward Penn), the mother (Anita Keal), the child (Randi Kallan), and the dog (Joanna Myers), the latter played by an actress with long, fur gloves and a button nose.

The evil Smedley V. Speed (Robert Browning) sells hard drugs to the clean-cut parents; soon they are stoned, while the pooch must care for the child in their stead. Finally, the now impoverished speed freaks are rescued by the efforts of traveling salesman Thomas Jefferson Worthyman (Robin Field). They kick the habit, but prepare for a painful withdrawal period.

The show was done as a broad, campy spoof of Victorian melodrama, as opposed to contemporary plays with similar themes that tried to mirror the horrors of drugs. This choice puzzled several critics who were unsure that urban kids would respond to so fanciful a premise for the serious message. Fortunately, the young audiences were permitted to talk back to the actors, which enhanced their involvement. The theme of parents being the victims was also unusual given that most such plays concentrated on youthful abusers.

John Beaufort called the show “coyly fatuous,” Douglas Watt thought its treatment beside the point, and Jerry Tallmer could not sit through all of it. However, Dick Brukenfeld liked several of its songs, and Howard Thompson called it “a pint-size charmer” that offered “a sprightly, saucy satire of old-style, nickelodeon melodrama.” He added that there was “infectious fun” here, with “voices ranging from good to excellent.”