The Hippo


Oct 16, 2019








Ben Hart, who directs and plays Ralph in Reefer Madness: The Musical. M Lavigne Photography.

See The Rocky Horror Show

Brandon James and Ben Hart are also directing a live production of The Rocky Horror Show at The Rep to complement Reefer Madness. Both shows, they said, have similar cult followings and also similar characters and story arcs, and as such, Rocky Horror will feature the same actors and, in some cases, costumes and set design as Reefer Madness. These shows are Friday, July 15; Saturday, July 16; Friday, July 22; and Saturday, July 23, at 11:59 p.m. each night.
See Reefer Madness
Where: Seacoast Repertory Theatre, 125 Bow St., Portsmouth
When: June 24 through July 24, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Call 433-4472, visit

Reefer at the Rep
Zombies, aerial dancers and banana splits

By Kelly Sennott

 The Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s 2015-2016 season has been one of great risk-taking, from a 50-puppet Avenue Q and steampunk Oliver to rarely seen works like Satchmo at the Waldorf and The Marvelous Wonderettes.

This weekend, the Portsmouth company takes its biggest leap yet with Reefer Madness: The Musical
The musical, first produced in Los Angeles in 1998, is a song-and-dance-and-zombies satire of the 1936 cult classic anti-marijuana film shown in schools, Reefer Madness. The story centers around a couple of teenagers whose marijuana abuse leads them down a road to ruin. People turn into zombies, get murdered and think they see Jesus. The musical became more popular in 2005 when it got major motion picture treatment and an all-star cast of Kristen Bell, Christian Campbell and Alan Cumming. 
Rep Artistic Director Miles Burns said the company had been looking for another alternative play for Directors Brandon James and Ben Hart ever since they took on Avenue Q last August and spent nine months devising 50 hand puppets from recycled materials. But he had to wonder: Was Portsmouth ready for Reefer Madness?
The Rep is a nonprofit, and with just seven mainstage productions a year, selling tickets is an important factor when considering programming. But they decided to chance it, figuring it would at least attract the same people who attend The Rep’s Red Light Series of adult programming that ranges from cult classic film screenings to drag and burlesque shows. 
There’s a crowd in Portsmouth that’s not afraid to see new and unconventional productions, they said, and besides, the company has seen a new demographic of theater-goers this season. James ran into people the other day who became Rep regulars specifically because of his and Hart’s recycled Avenue Q puppets — they felt the company was doing something green for the planet and they’d since come back for other productions.
“We’re hoping to appeal to the crowd that’s lived in Portsmouth for a long time and has been hungry for this sort of thing and hasn’t seen it lately,” Hart said. “Another reason we wanted to do this show is that, so often, when it’s done, it’s in sort of a black box, fringe or midnight production. We were very excited for the opportunity to give it the full mainstage treatment, as the show is actually a huge spectacle. It’s almost like an edgier Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Reefer Madness contains a variety of musical and dance numbers, with choreography that incorporates aerial dance (courtesy of a Cirque du Soleil performer), tap, ballet, contortionism, gymnastics, lifts, even hula-hooping. There will also be Walking Dead-level effects and makeup — Hart and James held early auditions so they’d have time to take concrete plaster molds of all 18 cast members’ faces and make hand-sculpted zombie masks made from foam, latex and silicone. At the time of their phone call, five full racks of costumes hung downstairs, and they still weren’t done.
In the show’s VIP section, theater chairs have been replaced with couches. People sitting here will get ponchos for protection from special effects like spraying blood, and they’ll be given food during certain scenes, like when the five-and-dime proprietor makes banana splits.
“The show hasn’t been done a lot. I feel like a lot of places think it’s a big risk,” Burns said.
The fear is people will misconstrue the company’s intention, particularly with the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire. This past May, the company tackled the issue head-on with a show of New Hampshire narratives, Stories of Addiction. And partway through Reefer Madness, staff will pass around a collection box whose proceeds will go toward drug abuse rehab organizations.
“The opioid epidemic — that is a real epidemic, and that is a real problem,” James said. “I hope that us performing a show with the word ‘reefer’ in it, people won’t look at us as supporting reckless behavior and decision-making. It’s not meant to do that. … It’s meant to be a spectacle. A massively entertaining spectacle.”  

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