Monday, February 16, 2015

Reefer Madness the Musical

Book by:  Kevin Murphy & Dan Studney

Music by:  Dan Studney

Lyrics by:  Kevin Murphy

Venue:  SaGáJi Theater, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, CO.

Running Time:  2 hours 15 minutes (time provided by Fine Arts Center).

Date of Performance:  Friday, February 13, 2015.  

Reefer Madness the Musical isn’t just a show now playing at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.  It’s also a 1936 cult film, produced as propaganda by a church group trying to teach kids not to use marijuana.  The film has played college campuses since being rediscovered in the 1970s, where its' popularity is as a comedy that exaggerates the dangers of “reefer.”  The film used a number of unlikely consequences of marijuana use (hallucinations, a hit and run accident, attempted rape, murder, suicide, and madness) to prevent viewers from becoming “addicted” to marijuana.

The film is widely considered to be one of the worst ever made.

Reefer Madness the Musical opened in Los Angeles in 1998. Fast forward to 2015, where the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has revived Reefer Madness the Musical in a whole new context.  No longer an illegal or immoral drug, marijuana has put down roots in Colorado as a medical treatment and and as an intoxication option. 

When the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center embraces “Reefer Madness,” I think it’s fair to say that marijuana has reached the mainstream.  It’s no longer an illegal, underground habit of a rebellious minority.  It’s safe, it’s sanctioned by the people of Colorado, and it’s extremely popular.  This is a huge cultural change, and it’s one that finds Colorado on the cutting edge.  Reefer Madness the Musical celebrates and spoofs those cultural changes.

As for this production at the Fine Arts Center, those who are familiar with their shows will not be disappointed.  This is a first class production, with an excellent cast, a stunning set, marvelous costumes, and a sizzling band.  Reefer Madness is a treat for adults, just as the recent Mary Poppins was a treat for the kids.  
Andrew Wilkes (Jimmy) & Chelsea Ringer (Mary)

I won’t waste time describing the plot in detail, as it’s silly and much more complicated than I could summarize in a paragraph.  I will say, however, that the musical version of the Reefer Madness film adds a few additional consequences for kids using marijuana, including puppy murder, dismemberment, cannibalism, disembowelment, and death by garden implement.  Like I said…it’s pretty silly.
Five and Dime, neon sign.

Scenic Designer Kevin Loeffler has created a feast for the eyes, including what may be a local record for the amount of neon used for a single set piece.  His neon sign for the tune Down at the Old Five and Dime hangs from the ceiling, and it is huge.  HUGE.  Nathan Halvorson directed and choreographed Reefer Madness, and his choreography for the Five and Dime scene is excellent.  Costume Designer Janson Fangio dressed the cast in colorful, sexy, and period appropriate but eye popping costumes.  Two of his creations stand out; a gold lamé loin cloth for Jesus, and the sexy body suits for the entire cast during The Orgy.  
Kenton Fridley as Jesus

Max Ferguson plays The Lecturer, and he’s a marvelous choice for that role.  A veteran of the Fine Arts Center stage, Ferguson has the voice, the dance moves, and the gravitas to deliver the bad news to the kids about reefer.  Andrew Wilkes plays Jimmy Harper, a good kid who discovers weed.  It promptly takes his promising life into a bleak downward spiral.  Wilkes is superb; he is totally credible as the All American naive kid, and as the smoker, toker, and slacker he becomes.  Watch him in the song Jimmy Takes a Hit.  He smokes his first joint, and you can literally see him lose his innocence to reefer.

Jimmy’s girl friend, Mary Lane (Chelsea Ringer) is as pure and innocent as Jimmy…until the second act when she too falls victim to weed.  Ringer is perfect for her role.  Once her inner Mary is unleashed by reefer, she shocks us all.  Innocence lost can get very ugly very fast, and Ringer brings the passion that makes it look real.

Caren Tackett as Mae
The rest of the cast is excellent as well.  Caren Tackett is a standout as Mae, the drug addicted Maven of the Reefer Den.  She exacts revenge on her pusher boyfriend Jack, taking him down in a particularly brutal scene.  Tackett plays the rest of act two with Jack’s blood all over her dress.  Kenton Fridley is also remarkable, playing both Jack and Jesus.  It is Jesus I will remember, and Fridley preening in his gold lamé loincloth.

Reefer Madness even has at least one musical moment that I can’t get out of my head.  In the first act, Jimmy realizes he has to choose between Mary Jane or Mary Lane.  The music is marvelous; Mary Jane/Mary Lane is the musical pinnacle of the show (here’s a video of that song from the film of the same name).  I am considering buying the entire sound track just for that tune.

Max Ferguson as The Lecturer
According to The Lecturer, reefer will turn our children into “hooligans and whores.”  That’s been the fear of parents since I was a kid.  I remember getting the anti-drug message from an early age, and I now see that some of that message came from propaganda like Reefer Madness.  As an adult, though, it seems apparent that a lot of the “hooligans and whores” (and by that I mean those who fell somewhat short of their parents’ expectations) I am acquainted with never used reefer.  

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has shown artistic courage by bringing Reefer Madness the Musical to the most conservative community in Colorado, and to its devoted base of season subscribers.  Some of those season subscribers will no doubt be disappointed or even angry about Reefer Madness the Musical.  That’s unfortunate.  Change is inevitable, and art often reflects (or even provokes) cultural changes.  

I predict that the Fine Arts Center will attract new subscribers by taking the creative risk of Reefer Madness the Musical.  I have no doubt that there is a large audience out there for first class entertainment that reflects the cultural changes that have come to Colorado.

It is no small irony that the Fine Arts Center offers cocktails and beer to customers before the show and at intermission.  Alcohol is a legal intoxicant, but marijuana is still a lonely stepchild in the marketplace.  The day may come, and sooner than we think, when both alcohol and marijuana are offered side by side at the Fine Arts Center.  

Colorado has had medical marijuana since 2001, and recreational marijuana for more than a year.  Despite the growing presence of reefer in Colorado, I have seen no evidence of increases in puppy murder, cannibalism, dismemberment, or other deviant behavior that Reefer Madness predicted.  In fact, the sky has NOT fallen.  Instead, tax revenues have exploded, and mellow tourism now reaches well beyond the ski slopes.  I voted against Amendment 64 in November 2012.  My side lost, but Colorado in fact won in that election.  Recreational marijuana has been implemented carefully and successfully, with a minimum of the dire consequences that were feared.

Reefer Madness the film was a propaganda vehicle to scare people, and it’s time has clearly passed.  Reefer Madness the Musical is a spoof that satirizes irrational fear.  It’s time has clearly come to Colorado.  The Fine Arts Center deserves a standing ovation for bringing it to the right community at the right time in history.  

So...I'm standing.  And applauding.  It is a fortunate community that has an artistic enterprise that both reflects our values (Mary Poppins) and challenges our values (Reefer Madness the Musical).  Both are legitimate and necessary tasks for art.


This show is not suitable for all ages.  The script contains adult language, adult situations, violence, and drug use.  The Fine Arts Center advises that Reefer Madness the Musical is suitable for ages 16 and up.

As I said above, I voted against recreational marijuana.  Full disclosure…I’m not a fan of weed.  I’m not a smoker, and inhaling either tobacco or marijuana would make me gag.  That said, though, I’m a product of my generation, and enjoy the many flavors of alcohol.  I harbor no hostility, however, to those who prefer to smoke their intoxicant, now that it’s legal. 

There is ample free parking in the lot at the theater and on neighboring streets. 

This production closes on March 1, 2015.  

Pre or Post Show Dining Suggestion:

All our favorite downtown restaurants were booked solid because of Valentine’s Day weekend crowds.  We decided to try Bourbon Brothers near the Bass Pro Shop at I-25 and Northgate (Exit 156).  It’s only about a 15 minute drive to the theater, with lots of parking and easy freeway access.  

The food was excellent, if a little on the expensive side.  I had the pulled pork sandwich ($12.00), and it was delicious.  I also recommend the Down South Old Fashioned ($9.00).  Bourbon Brothers has about 125 bourbons on hand at the bar; the Old Fashioned is made with Maker’s Mark.  One was plenty for me.  Happy Hour is 3-6:00 daily, and features $3.00 draft beers, glasses of wine, and well drinks.
Bourbon Brothers Surf & Turf.

PHOTO CREDITSThe Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Jeff Kearney.



Director/Choreographer:  Nathan Halvorsen

Music Director:  Ian Ferguson

Scenic Deisgn:  Kevin Loeffler

Sound Design:  Alex Ruhlin

Lighting Design:  Jonathan Spencer

Hair/Makeup Design:  Jonathan Eberhardt

Costumes:  Janson Fangio

Stage Manager:  Katy McGlaughlin


Jimmie Harper:  Andrew Wilkes

Lecturer:  Max Ferguson

Mary Lane:  Chelsea Ringer

Jack Stone/Jesus:  Kenton Fridley

Mae:  Caren Lyn Tackett

Ralph Wiley:  Kevin Pierce

Sally:  Rebecca Myers

Placard Girl:  Becca Vourvoulas

Ensemble:  Alex Campbell, Nate Ferrick, Sammy Gleason, Omid Dastan Harrison


Keyboards/Conductor/Musical Director:  Ian Ferguson

Reeds:  Ed Hureau

Guitars:  Wayne Wilkinson

Bass:  Jay Hahn

Percussion:  Bobby McGuffin

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