Going Green: Reefer Turns Over a New Leaf

My very first college experience with reefer wasn’t what you’d typically expect – there were no shady drug dealers involved or explicitly illegal instruments or even a Grateful Dead album crooning along in the background. Instead, it was a glimpse of actress Kristen Bell belting out the perks of “Mary-Jane” in a YouTube clip from the 2005 movie musical Reefer Madness. Known primarily for her gig on the now cancelled Veronica Mars, the sweet-faced actress turns from goodie two-shoes to converted stoner in the course of just one song. Senior Lindsey Simpson attempted the same feat in her lead role as Mary Lane in the Colgate Masque & Triangle’s own musical rendition of Reefer Madness at the Palace Theater November 12, 13 and 14 at 8 p.m.

“I actually have never watched the whole film or musical – I’ve seen bits and pieces but usually like to try and approach playing a character without being too influenced by what people have done before,” Simpson said. “‘Mary Sunshine,’ the number when my character smokes reefer for the first time, is probably the most challenging, just because there is such a drastic character change in a really short span of time. Plus, there’s a ton of movement and a lot of loud singing – it’s exhausting!”

But singing and dancing in pot-leaf formation should be a huge part of any musical – particularly the ones that parody the dangers of marijuana. Welcome to Reefer Madness.  

Originally directed by Andy Fickman, the play is a musical satire of the 1936 American exploitation film, initially titled Tell Your Children. This unabashed propaganda film quickly became a cult classic of comically bad cinema with its dated views of marijuana addiction and exaggerated symptoms (the basics: the munchies, manslaughter and running away from home). Since its rediscovery, the film has become a recognized subject of well-deserved ridicule thanks to Fickman, Rodgers and Hammerstein Theatricals and now, Colgate’s own student theatre troupe.

Reefer Madness as a show is a wonderful satire full of wit and sass. It makes fun of everything from Public Service Announcements to musical theater.

“Every time I see the show, I catch different lines and jokes that I never knew were there,” senior Rachel Wassel said in her director’s note. “The show also has a message that I think is an important one. We should not be complacent and accept what is told to us, instead we need to explore, investigate and learn for ourselves.”

The musical satire Reefer Madness revolves around the tragic events that ensue when two high school sweethearts, Mary Lane, played by Simpson, and Jimmy Harper, played by junior Sam Christie, are lured into trying marijuana under false pretenses. In Mary and Jimmy’s wild – and vastly over exaggerated – descent into “Reefer Madness,” the audience watches as the two encounter a slew of colorful characters. Drug dealers Mae and Jack (seniors Tessa Drake and Lucas Myerson) make a hilarious duo, while certified stoners Ralph and Sally (seniors Sam Meyer and Laura McDonald) are spot on, especially when Ralph laughingly hands out brownies to the audience during intermission and Sally sells her baby in order to pay for her “giggle-sticks.” Accompanied by a fantastic live band directed by senior Michael Petersen, the musical’s narration by senior Sam Daly as the Lecturer and hilarious subtitles thanks to Placard Girl in a pink tutu (senior Becky Blake) supplemented the other outrageous cameos in the musical:  a Goat-Man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair and Jesus, who obviously comes to gloat at Jimmy’s execution.

But perhaps even some of the best moments in the show were the ones that the audience didn’t see.

“One of the most memorable behind the scenes stories has to be the first time I did the orgy musical number in costume,” Christie laughs. “The director insisted on having people practice undressing my character, so I ended up being the only one running around in my boxers while everyone else was fully clothed.  It was a little weird, to say the least.”

For the musical that was actually presented, Reefer Madness appeared to be well received by the Colgate community, judging by the full house on opening night. Sophomore Trinel Torian was a fan.

“I was impressed how the cast was able to bring to life the comedy inherent in this cult classic, and perhaps, even through my laughter, I understood the message that the show intended to communicate,” Torian said.

First-year Morgan Staffaroni agreed.

“I really enjoyed the interaction with the audience – running through the aisles and handing out brownies. Overall, it was hysterical and really well done,” Staffaroni said.

By the end of the show, the cast of Reefer Madness may have danced their way off stage to the Lecturer’s final words, “Once that reefer has been destroyed/ We’ll start on Darwin and Sigmund Freud, sex depicted on celluloid/ And communists and queens/ America, America, let’s keep our country off the green!” but Simpson urges Colgate to walk away with something a little different than just a simple warning about marijuana.

“Honestly, even if the audience walks away feeling like they’ve laughed a little harder than they have in a while, or that their mind has been cleared from things that were stressing them out earlier – I feel like all of us in the show would feel like we had done our job!” Simpson remarked.