The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Reefer Madness. Courtesy photo.

Up in smoke
Actorsingers take on a marijuana propaganda satire


 Angie Sykeny
Every summer, in addition to its mainstage productions, the Nashua-based community theater group the Actorsingers presents a lesser-known, edgier musical known as a “Fringe Show.” 
“Fringe is about shows that don’t fit anywhere else in theater, that have sex or violence or drugs or other questionable subject matter and are not for all audiences and are not going to sell out a giant theater,” said Angelica Rosenthal, director of this year’s Fringe Show, Reefer Madness. 
Reefer Madness is a musical parody of the 1936 marijuana propaganda film of the same name. The film implied that marijuana use can lead to extreme cases of violence, sexual promiscuity, hallucinations and insanity. 
“It said [marijuana] will make you crazy, make you murder people, and as ridiculous and over-the-top as it was, it really scared people,” Rosenthal said. “That anyone would believe this is mind-boggling, but unfortunately, there’s still spreading of misinformation today, so I think turning that into a fun and ridiculous musical comedy is the best way to fight lies and misconceptions.” 
Reefer Madness opened off-Broadway in 2001 and received more fame with the 2005 made-for-television film adaptation starring Kristen Bell and Christian Campbell. 
The story follows an innocent teen couple, Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, whose lives descend into chaos after they wind up at The Reefer Den, the home of drug-pusher Jack and his drug-addicted girlfriend Mae, where they smoke marijuana for the first time. 
“They end up in an orgy. There’s a lot of blood and body parts. In one scene, a character hallucinates all these dead kids that got hooked on reefer and come back as zombies,” said actor Jess Vaughn, who plays Mae. “It has a Rocky Horror kind of feel to it in the way that it’s so over-exaggerated and over-the-top.” 
The score features the stylings of 1930s swing and jazz with a few exceptions, like “The Brownie Song,” an upbeat, cartoon-like song that accompanies the scene in which Jimmy trips out after eating a pot brownie. 
“Musicals are kind of ridiculous on their own, so to have people singing about this whole ridiculous concept [of the marijuana propaganda] is absolutely absurd,” Rosenthal said, “and yet, after the first three musical numbers, you kind of start to accept the craziness. You don’t realize how ridiculous it is until after the show is over.” 
Rosenthal said that, to her knowledge, the Actorsingers’ production is the first community theater production of Reefer Madness in the state. 
When she first came across the script, she immediately fell in love with it, but she wasn’t confident that the Actorsingers’ board would share her sentiment when she pitched it to them for this year’s Fringe Show. 
“I have never seen a show this ridiculous before, and I really thought [the board] would be more interested in a less shocking show,” she said, “but to my surprise, they seemed really interested and really passionate about it.” 
Prior to Reefer Madness, Vaughn had been on a hiatus from theater. Her theater experience consisted mostly of classics like Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music, but now, she said, she’s looking to expand her repertoire. 
“My last show was Jesus Christ Superstar, and it’s a very emotionally draining show, so for my next show, I wanted to do something different, something light-hearted and nutty for a change. I wanted to start doing edgier pieces and pieces that aren’t done too often,” she said. “When I found out about the auditions [for Reefer Madness] … I knew I had to audition.” 
The show isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy that brand of campy, absurdist comedy, Vaughn said, you won’t want to miss it. 
“It’s one of the funniest shows I’ve been in, and we aren’t holding anything back; you’re going to see it all,” she said. “If you need a night to get away and laugh a lot and have a good time, this is the show.” 

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