“Creeping like a communist, it’s knocking at our doors
Turning all our children into hooligans and whore”
Originally released as “Tell Your Children”, Reefer Madness is a 1936 anti-cannabis moralistic propaganda film that depicts, through a series of melodramatic events, the effects of cannabis. It was so over the top and ridiculous that it made a great cult topic for originally unintended subject. The film became an item of unintentional comedy among advocates of legalizing marijuana and cannabis policy reform. The musical satire had a challenge to make it even more ridiculous.
The musical, currently playing in San Jose, is based on a book by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, with music by Dan Studney. Giulio Perrone, Michael Palumbo, Stephen Massott, Lydia Lyons, and Jean Cardinale deserve major kudos for fantastic set, lighting, stage, and costumes design. And hilarious lyrics by Kevin Murphy, steal the show.
“someone’s got to dare to take a stand
Can’t ignore any more, it could be your son or daughter
With a deadly stick of reefer in their hand!
They’re heading straight for
Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness!”
As high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana and one unintentional puff gets them addicted, their lives go on a downward spiral. It starts with giggles and a pretty woman walks the stage with a board that says “reefer makes you giggle for no good reason.” But the decent into madness continues, as Mae and Jack (superbly played by Allison F. Rich and Gabriel Grilli), lure high school students. Mae however, prefers to sell to customers her own age but is not able to contradict or leave Jack, who is controlling and abusive, because it’s “the stuff” that makes her stay. Ralph (Will Springhorn Jr. and) and Sally (Jill Miller) help sell cannabis to young students, and they get Jimmy Lane (Barnaby James), a young college student with a sharp mind and in love with a young woman, get hooked on cannabis. Story of Jimmy’s decent into madness, and later of his girlfriend, Mary (Courtney Hatcher), who comes to the “cannabis headquarters”, looking for Jimmy, is a tale of manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, murder, electric chair, and finally redemption, by Jesus himself.
As the ridiculous story unfolds, despite the divine call, “Just say no to the marijuana! (Listen to Jesus, Jimmy!)”, Jimmy refuses to listen. The warnings are uncanny, from relatively benign to extreme, “reefer gives you potty mouth”; “reefer makes you a pathological liar”; “reefer kills poor old men”; “reefer makes you sell your babies”;” and more. Finally, destined to go to hell, from his electric chair, Jimmy appeals to Jesus, “if you save me, I will heed the words you gave me” only to be reminded by Jesus (Gabriel Grilli), “You didn’t (Listen to Jesus, Jimmy) It’s too late for absolution, I’m just here to watch the execution”. But all’s well that ends well and there comes a last minute, Presidential pardon, forgiveness by Jesus, and the play ends with these lyrics.
“Now you’ve learned the truth about the menace dark and dread
Take a stance or there’s a chance that God may strike you dead
For putting up with Reefer madness! Reefer madness!
This satirical comedy is certain to throw you in uproars of laughter at how far the society can go and whip up the frenzy, in the name of righteousness. Reefer Madness is currently playing at The Stage in San Jose www.thestage.org .