Review: Reefer Madness

8:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday; $12-$18. Fair Oaks Theatre Festival, Veterans Memorial Amphitheatre, 7991 California Avenue in Fair Oaks; (916) 966-3683; Through July 23.
Rated 3.0

The 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film Reefer Madness (originally titled Tell Your Children) was intended—by the do-gooder church group that sponsored it—to be a cautionary tale for parents about the danger of smoking pot.

It was melodramatic and over-the-top but taken for gospel, much like “fake news” is today. Then the film was rediscovered in the 1970s and became a cult classic. In 1998, Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney created a musical stage version, which played in Los Angeles and, briefly, off-Broadway. It’s not a very good play, but it can be enjoyable in the right hands.

Reefer Madness tells the story of promising high school student Jimmy Harper (Elio Gutierrez), who finds his life ruined after one whiff of weed. It flies downhill into a life of debauchery, including attempted rape, manslaughter and madness. Apparently, a little dab’ll do ya.

Karen Bombardier directs a large and enthusiastic young Fair Oaks Theatre Festival cast who tackle the show with glee. Vocal director Tracy Martin Shearer coaches fine singing from the ensemble, especially from Gutierrez, Melissa Brausch as his girlfriend Mary Lane and Brianne Hidden-Wise as Mae, who runs a local dope den. Jacob Montoya’s choreography is effective yet uncomplicated enough for nonprofessional dancers.