Ralph (Nicholas Kelly), one of the denizens of the Reefer Den, entices innocent Mary Lane (Jill Miller) in The Paper Wing Theatre CompanyÕs production of
Ralph (Nicholas Kelly), one of the denizens of the Reefer Den, entices innocent Mary Lane (Jill Miller) in The Paper Wing Theatre CompanyÕs production of the campy rock musical "Reefer Madness,Ó which opens Friday night at the Paper Wing Theatre in Monterey.

If the original 1936 movie "Reefer Madness" became popular for its over-the-top sensationalism in portraying the evils of marijuana, then the musical of the same name elevates "the top" to a whole new level.

In a spirit of campy fun, the Paper Wing Theatre Company presents "Reefer Madness: The Musical!," opening Friday night at the Paper Wing Theatre in Monterey.

With Koly McBride as director, the production features L.j. Brewer, Jill Miller, Erik James Morton, Daniel Mathey, Erin Davison, Taylor Noel Young and Nicholas Kelley. The artistic team includes Jill Miller as choreographer and Eric N. Johnson as musical director.

"Reefer Madness" was first released in 1936 as an anti-marijuana propaganda movie with the cautionary title "Tell Your Children."

Though originally financed by a religious organization with the serious intent of spreading the message of the horrors of cannabis, the film was quickly scooped up by producer Dwain Esper, who was notorious for his sensationalistic films.

Esper edited the film, changed its title and began to circulate the footage on the exploitation film circuit. The film had a brief run and then quietly disappeared for several decades, until it was unearthed in 1971 by Keith Stroup, founder of NORML (Nation Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws).

"Reefer Madness" became a hit at midnight movie screenings and pro-marijuana festivals throughout the 1970s and '80s.

By the time playwrights Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney had come of age, the film had obtained a cult following.

The two adapted the story as a musical, framing it in the context of a community lecture that warns against the evils of reefer.

As the lecturer delivers his cautionary speech, the story is played out by musical numbers that come to life on stage as satirical morality tales.

Though the storyline of the musical follows that of the movie, McBride said that the irony in the stage adaptation is exaggerated with flamboyant numbers that depict outrageous scenarios of what supposedly can happen once marijuana enters one's life.

"No matter how you feel about marijuana, this is such a ridiculous depiction that it's going to be entertaining," said McBride. "Everyone knows that if you smoke reefer you're not going to end up as a flesh-eating zombie. If you smoke marijuana once, you're not going to end up addicted, hanging out in the reefer den, dealing for a living."

She also said that it's this irony — and its inherent political message — that makes the musical a perfect match for Paper Wing.

"The subject matter, although presented in a playful light, makes a general but no less poignant political statement," she said. "The general theme is 'your government knows what's best for you.' We pull that out and laugh at it."

Brewer, who plays the ultraconservative lecturer, said that he's found a wealth of inspiration to draw from in the evening news.

"It's a blast," he mused. "I get to play this right-wing, religious zealot. It's a pretty easy role because, with our current Republican nominations, there are so many role models for me to look at."

Lily Dayton can be reached at montereybaylily@gmail.com. GO!


THEATER OPENING

What: Paper Wing Theatre Company presents "Reefer Madness: the Musical"
Where: Paper Wing Theatre, 320 Hoffman Ave. at Lighthouse Avenue, Monterey
When: Opens at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 6 and continues at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through April 28
Tickets: $23 general admission, $20 seniors, students, and military; available at the door (box office opens one half hour prior to showtime) or advance tickets online at www.paperwing theatre.com
Information: www.paperwing theatre.com, 905-5684