“Dreamed of a reefer five feet long. Not too mild and not too strong.” A version of those lyrics was first recorded by composer Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys in 1936, the same year that the film Reefer Madness was first shown.
The film–which was originally entitled Tell Your Children–tells the tragic story of youth ruined by the “demon weed” marijuana. It was financed by a church group attempting what might have been one of the first social guidance films, but who ended up creating a piece of exploitative propaganda. Long a staple at “World’s Worst” and other cult film festivals, the story became the basis for the campy satire “Reefer Madness: The Musical” in 1998. And aren’t we all lucky it did?
(l. to r.) Samuel W. Flint as Ralph, Billy Binion as Jimmy, Britni Synclair as Sally, Rico Robinson as Jack | all photos courtesy of JLK Productions
Double Dog Theatre, the area’s newest theatre company, has chosen “Reefer Madness” as its inaugural production. Using the framework of a cautionary tale presented to parents by a lecturer and a drama club in an all-American 1930s high school, it tells the story of squeaky clean teenager, Jimmy Harper, here played by Billy Binion. He is persuaded by Jack (Rico Robinson), a pusher, to go to a “reefer den” run by Mae (Alyssa Sortino) with the promise of receiving dancing lessons. Jimmy meets Mae’s other regulars: college dropout Ralph (Samuel W. Flint) and loose woman Sally (Britni Synclair), and is soon persuaded to take a toke. His resulting (hilarious) fall from grace also affects his sweet, innocent, girl-next-door sweetheart, Mary Lane (Noelle Peterson). Also, Zac Jenkins makes an appearance as sexy Jesus.
Noelle Peterson as Mary Lane
All the actors are terrifically good, but a few in particular are exceptional. The ensemble members of “Reefer Madness” are a true chorus in the classic sense; in that, as a unit, they become a single, separate character in the play. In addition, they each have chances to show individual characterizations in some of their appearances as a group, and several of them get to shine in certain scenes featuring them. As well as dancing, singing and managing many demanding costume changes, the ensemble is responsible for all the set changes. Occasionally these changes run a pinch too long, but the viewer barely minds, due to the charming ensemble actors’ dedication to their characters. I don’t know about you, but I could watch stoner zombies all night long.
The undisputed star on the show is Christopher Kypros as the Lecturer. He is the audience’s host and guide for the evening, introducing scenes and setting up situations as well as participating in many of the scenes himself. His performance is nothing less than brilliant. Utilizing his musical and acting talents as well as his copious natural charisma, he acts, sings, and plays various diverse characters (Twenty? Thirty?) throughout the course of the play. Holding the audience in the palm of his hand, he seamlessly moves from character to character (with accompanying costume changes); and, from start to finish, neither his energy nor his expertise flags for a moment. His performance alone would be worth a visit to the theatre. He’s good.
Christopher Kypros as The Lecturer
Directed by Brendan Hoyle, Double Dog’s Artistic Director, it is a thoroughly well produced and brilliantly executed show. The entire design team deserves kudos, but particular praise must be given to two people. Ryan Ward is responsible for highly imaginative and completely befitting costumes. At various times, actors wear (and dance in) 1930s period outfits as well as pieces that are wacky, funny, sexy, and, above all, inform the viewer about the characters. Shane K. Stelly’s simple yet expressive set is capable of moving and creating many different settings and playing areas. Thanks to music director Cathy Francis and choreographer Cara Goodwin, the show is a perfect example of impressive, finely tuned musical performances and dance. And it’s so funny you might laugh hard enough to wet your pants.
Double Dog Theatre has been promoting “Reefer Madness: The Musical” at Little Theatre of Norfolk as “the high point of the summer.” Theatrically speaking, that may be true. Do you want to see wonderful dancing and great comic acting? Are you interested in a crazy funny spoof of cautionary tales of the past? Would you like to see a respected local teacher slink around the stage half naked? Do you want to see a dancing brownie? If so, “Reefer Madness: The Musical” is the show for you.
One Toke Over The Line, Sweet Jesus. “Reefer Madness: The Musical” is a production of Double Dog Theatre Company, which runs at Little Theatre of Norfolk through Sunday, August 10. Tickets are $22. Reservations are strongly advised. For more information, or to make reservations visit Double Dog Theatre’s website (doubledogtheatre.com).