Richmond is Mad For “Reefer Madness”

Based on the 1936 movie “Reefer Madness” and adapted from the more recent 1998 musical, “Reefer” is pure fun and laughs with a radiant ensemble that keeps you entertained from start to finish.

Last week I received an email plea from a friend that said the new production at Firehouse Theatre had a tough opening weekend and if it did not get better crowds soon, it might close up shop early.

What a difference a week makes!

In just a week, the musical “Reefer Madness” went from worrying about its survival to singing to full or packed houses, and there is already talk of extending its run.

And why not? “Reefer” is pure fun and laughs with a radiant ensemble that keeps you entertained from start to finish.

“Reefer” could be compared to the dark side that is only cursorily explored in the musical movie “Grease,” even though this is based on the 1936 movie “Reefer Madness” and is adapted from the more recent 1998 musical.

“Reefer” pokes fun at the attitudes that grass was the root of pure evil and demonstrates it as it wrecks the lives of two innocent lovebirds.

Michael Carl Rieman is brilliant as “Jimmy,” as he courts the equally shining Jacquelynn Rae Camden as “Mary Lane.” At one point, the then-innocent couple compares their love to Romeo and Juliet, although both admit to not having read the book to the end!

Their relationship turns dark as Jimmy becomes obsessed with the “evil weed” as Mary chases him with reckless abandon and he tries to hide his new vice from her.

Jimmy is led astray by Jack, portrayed superbly by Chris Hester, as the ganja lord and corrupter of young innocent minds. Hester’s wicked role is juxtaposed by his second role as the flashy Jesus, who tries to convince Jimmy to fly right and follow the right path. His Jesus role also appears later with an absolute hysterical “I told you so” musical number as Jimmy faces his fate.

Matt Beyer is outstanding as he narrates the performance as if giving a temperance speech or a concerned parental lecture. You can’t help but laugh at the inanity of his warnings, which we have all heard from our parents before.

These players are the heart of the show and carry it to the end, but the entire cast is fun, and you can’t help but willingly ride along. This is not a snail-paced “duuuude” performance of stoners sitting around laughing at thin air.

It is an engaging, enjoyable musical that no doubt will have its run extended now that the word is out: “Reefer Madness” is not madness at all, it is both good fun and damn entertaining.

Reefer Madness: The Musical is a highly stylized and satirical political commentary. It contains adult humor, religious parody, drug use, as well as suggested violence and sexual explicitness. It therefore may be inappropriate for younger audiences.

Dates: Thursday – Sunday, through June 29th.
Tickets: $25 regular, with discounts for seniors and students! Click here for more information, and to buy tickets.

Photo by Britanny Diliberto.

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Jon Baliles

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