The smoking lamp is lit
Reefer Madness: The Musical
Sacramento, CA 95816
Wild, insane, depraved and downright hilarious: That’s the verdict, but it’s not marijuana that’s being judged. It’s the musical melodrama of Reefer Madness, given a local premiere by Artistic Differences, that gang of wild-and-crazy local musical theater people who put the “trippy” in just about any show they produce.
Here’s the short form, in case you didn’t waste a few evenings in college, uh, getting wasted and watching the film version of Reefer Madness. A lecturer (the incredibly flexible Jes Gonzales) introduces us to the newest threat to purity, truth, justice and the American way. It’s marijuana, and it will turn your kids into maniacs! We see the truth of his claims, as Jimmy (Brad Bong—and yes, that’s really the way he’s credited) goes from clean-cut schoolboy to zombielike junkie after just a few puffs. Why, marijuana leads to terrible things, like sex! And selling your baby! And doing the zombie dance from Thriller! And getting the munchies! And giggling like a fiend over something that’s not really funny!
Tongue must be planted firmly in cheek for this show—but be careful that you don’t laugh so hard you bite it off. It’s hard to pick out noteworthy performances, but Joshua Glenn Robertson does seem to channel Sean Penn’s stoned-surfer dude from Fast Times at Ridgemont High a few times, and Kelly Daniells turns little Mary Lane into a sweet girl with a heart of ice. She really, really needs a toke or two to loosen up. As Mae, the abused fallen woman with a heart of gold, Jessica Goldman puts some true vocal chops into “The Stuff,” and Tony Wichowski brings just the right element of sleaze to the evil, dope-peddling Jack.
Then there’s the uncredited appearance of Ian Cullity as Jesus, played with an Elvis-style flair and just the right dose of Christian self-righteousness. And the ensemble is right on target, along with the Placard Girl (Netty Carey), who manages to make the obviously funny even funnier.
But the show really belongs to Gonzales, who goes from preaching high-school principal to dope-slinging soda jerk to a furry, behorned Satan with a taste for high-school flesh. He sings, he dances, he rants and raves; in fact, if J. Edgar Hoover and Bette Midler produced a child, well, Gonzales would be it.
The set takes advantage of retro-style facsimiles of anti-pot posters for décor, and has an extremely versatile construction (props to Brian Watson and Renee DeGarmo for their work). The band, under the direction of Paul Galloway, is out of sight—literally, since they’re behind the faux-pot greenhouse—and figuratively, as they put a little rock into some jazzy-pop music.
The only thing that’s not funny is the way that marijuana has been stigmatized by society from the time of the original version of Reefer Madness, which lacked the irony that Artistic Differences has packed into this production. To combat the ignorance that abounds about marijuana, the troupe is offering “Reefer in the 21st Century,” a series of discussions with featured speakers on marijuana policy.
Reefer Madness is a not-to-be-missed bit of social history and fun entertainment. Now, pass the Doritos. All this smokin’ is munchy-making.