A-list celebrity producers talk inspiration for ‘Reefer Madness’ revival

reefer madness musical

Cannabis reform may be closer than ever before, but that hasn’t stopped prohibitionists from spreading propaganda. “Weed causes psychosis! What about the children?!” Sound familiar? It’s the same rhetoric expounded by the film Reefer Madness nearly a century ago. But now, the cult-classic film and musical adaption is back via a 25th anniversary revival. The production offers side-splitting humor, tongue-in-cheek messages for the anti-weed holdouts, and a thought-provoking opportunity to revel in old-school fear-mongering while legally stoned.

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Reefer Madness: The Musical is set to open Thursday, May 30th, at the Whitley in Los Angeles. The revival of the award-winning 1998 production offers a hilarious, immersive experience that’ll bring audience members back to the 1930s. The play centers around a group of friends who are led to the dark side by the “new drug menace, marihuana.” As chaos ensues, propaganda spreads about the dangers of reefer, culminating in sex, murder, and, eventually, redemption.

And while the original content may seem ancient by today’s standards, the messaging is somehow more relevant than ever.

“I think the show not only resonates with the marijuana debate and…our culture’s reaction to it, but also, on a bigger level, it is about how we use fear in America to obfuscate the more pressing issues that people should really be getting angry about,” producer and Hollywood icon Alan Cumming shared with GreenState. “There’s a great line at the show’s end: ‘When danger’s near, exploit their fear.’ Exploiting people’s fear has become one of the basic tenets of politics on both sides of the political spectrum.”

Director and choreographer Spencer Liff hopes that ticket holders will encounter a wave of emotions during the production, from joy to introspection. 

“I’d like audiences of Reefer Madness to laugh their butts off and be dazzled by this absurdly talented cast,” Liff told GreenState. “Then I’d like them to go home and have a good think about how they receive news and information and realize that there’s often an ulterior motive lurking underneath the headlines.”

reefer madness musical play
The cast of the Reefer Madness: The Musical revival rehearse. Photo: Andrew Patino

Actress Kristen Bell, who played Mary Lane in the 2004 movie adaptation (as well as the New York stage version), told GreenState that When approached to produce a revival for the show’s 25th anniversary, she called it a “no-brainer.” She said the original Reefer Madness production, which helped launch her career, was a turning point.

“To be honest, I would do almost anything my Reefer Madness family asks me to do because I am forever indebted to them,” Bell said. “They truly changed my life when they convinced me to move out to Los Angeles. I had a ton of reasons why I couldn’t: I was intimidated, I didn’t have a place to stay, I didn’t know anyone… but these wonderful people were my friends (and family); they encouraged me to take the leap.”

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A post-show visit to the speakeasy-inspired afterparty is a must. With a “Postmodern Jukebox vibe,” the “Reefer Den” will feature musical performances, themed cocktails, and several cannabis activities. Surprise guests from Broadway and Hollywood are expected to appear, while an outdoor “Victory Garden” will offer even more surprises. 

Joyce Cenali, co-founder of the Cannabis Media Council, was overjoyed at the opportunity to get involved with the Reefer Madness revival. She hopes the production will have a ripple effect beyond Los Angeles and help reinforce efforts for nationwide reform.

“We find ourselves in this surreal moment in time where cannabis can be evangelized and satirized in the media,” Cenali said. “And yet, most cannabis businesses can’t advertise through those exact same channels. We are beyond thrilled to collaborate with change-makers and draw attention to this adaptation of Reefer Madness where audiences will get to witness the absurdity of this moment and surely be compelled to question and demand shifts in how our society views this marvelous plant.” 

Tickets for the limited eight-week run are available online; 1930s cosplay is encouraged. Whatever form guests choose to take, producers strive to create an experience that is as engaging as it is reflective.

“I hope audiences will have a blast and revel in the irony that they are watching a musical based on a real propaganda film at a time when the very thing that was so demonized and viewed as the root of all society’s ills can be… imbibed on the street outside the very theatre they are watching the show in!” Cumming concluded.

rachelle gordon

Rachelle Gordon is a cannabis journalist, Emerald Cup judge, Budist critic, and editor of GreenState.com. She began her weed writing journey in 2015 and has been featured in High Times, CannabisNow, Beard Bros, MG, Skunk, and many others. Rachelle currently splits her time between Minneapolis and Oakland; her favorite cannabis cultivars include Silver Haze and Tangie. Follow Rachelle on Instagram @rachellethewriter