Theater Review: “Reefer Madness: The Musical” Is Indeed, Comically Crazy Entertaining Madness

Kevin Taft reviews the theatrical production of the rip-roaring good time that is Reefer Madness, playing at the Whitley Theater in Los Angeles.
User Rating: 8.5

 

In 1937, an exploitation film called Tell Your Children was released, examining the tragic consequences of two high school students who are lured into a drug den of marijuana users. Later retitled “Reefer Madness,” the film reached cult status because of its ridiculous premise played as a very straight warning to teens and parents.

A tongue-in-cheek musical adaptation called Reefer Madness: The Musical began at the Hudson Theater in 1998 in Los Angeles before moving off-Broadway in late 2001. A film version starring Kristen Bell, Christian Campbell (Trick), his sister Neve Campbell, Ana Gasteyer, Amy Spanger, Steven Weber, and Alan Cumming was released to critical acclaim on Showtime in 2005, and three of the original cast members have now relaunched an immersive stage version back here in LA.

See Also: Theatre Review: Who Really Is “The Girl From the North Country?”

With Book and Lyrics by Kevin Murphy, and Book and Music by Dan Studney, the show is  a whacky, straight-faced retelling of high-school good guy Jimmy (Anthony Norman), who is led astray by a shadowy type (Bryan Daniel Porter in a triple role) and becomes addicted to the evil weed known as “reefer.”  Despite calls for the kids in town to beware of this new drug, Jimmy begins a slipper descent into madness, ostracizing his goody-two-shoes girlfriend Mary Lane (Darcy Rose Byrnes) and causing a number of tragedies along the way.

With songs like “The Stuff,” “Lonely Pew,” “Jimmy Takes a Hit,” and “The Brownie Song,” this small theater musical extravaganza is full of double entendres, boasts a wink-wink sensibility, and includes a lot of naughty shenanigans. And all of it is hilarious.

Audience members are seated in a way that allows the characters to easily move through the crowd, performing musical numbers and scenes in different parts of the theater. The stage itself is small, making the entire show an intimate experience, which makes the insane goings-on all the more entertainingly nuts.

The entire cast is on fire from Porter as the Lecturer (and Jesus), to Thomas Dekker (“Kaboom”) as the strung-out Ralph Wiley, to Nicole Parker’s hilariously droll owner of a drug den, to J. Elaine Marcos’ Sally – a single mother and sometimes whore,  to Norman’s formerly benign but then cracked out Jimmy, and of course Byrnes as Mary Lane who goes from squeaky clean to wild tomcat.

The ensemble is terrific as well, adding a sexy, naughty spice to the musical numbers. It is directed and choreographed by acclaimed choreographer Spencer Liff, who has worked on such Broadway shows as “Head Over Heels” and the revivals of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Spring Awakening.” He brings fun, chaotic energy to the show, which matches the bonkers source material.

This is one of those shows that you just have to experience. At 90 minutes, it goes by at a fast clip, but it never wavers. It’s a guaranteed rip-roaring good time.

Not only that, but you can hang out in The Den before the show, located in the Victory Garden behind the theater, to order drinks and munchies. For an extra fee, you can stay after the show to not only hang in the lounge but also enjoy the sounds of their house band playing swinging tunes. Tickets will only be available for a limited time, so blaze up and get your seats while they last.

“Reefer Madness: The Musical” plays at The Whitley Theater in Los Angeles.
For more information and tickets, visit reefermadness.com.

8.5
Great
Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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