CSU Theater Review: ‘Reefer Madness: the Musical’ brings life-like intensity to the stage

Chapman W.

With the topic of marijuana legalization such a massive one here at CSU, the newest production from the theater department is a comedic throwback to the early fears surrounding the substance.

“Reefer Madness: the Musical,” which opened appropriately on 4/20 at the University Center for the Arts, is set at Fort Collins High School in 1938. The musical is a play-within-a-play in which a local leader, played by Sam Otter, tells a story demonstrating the dangers of marijuana to the community. In the story, Jimmy, played by Ben Kulka, becomes addicted to marijuana and falls victim to “reefer madness” leading to a satanic orgy, a hit-and-run and a tragedy as Jimmy’s sweetheart Mary Lane, played by Kaya Rudolph, is pulled into the madness. The play is a satirical take on the 1936 propaganda film “Tell Your Children” and features modern-day themes along with dark comedy.

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The set immediately pulls the audience in, using the UCA’s original purpose as Fort Collins High School to create a setting that makes anyone in attendance believe they are actually watching an anti-marijuana presentation at the school. While uncomfortable bleachers and a stuffy room would normally make a production unappealing to me, the set took advantage of the UCA in a way that was extremely unexpected, and it captivated me in a way that no other show has at the UCA. I felt as if I were actually sitting in FCHS in the ’30s, and it immediately set the feeling of the play. The production team saw an opportunity and they took advantage of it in a way that left me wandering around during intermission admiring the level of detail that went into the construction.

"Reefer Madness the Musical" opened at the UCA last week. (Image Courtesy of CSU Theater)
“Reefer Madness: the Musical” opened at the UCA last week. (Image courtesy of CSU Theater.)

The cast was also phenomenal, delivering a myriad of characters who felt theatrical at every moment. Nearly every actor played more than one character, and the versatility demonstrated by the entire ensemble was fantastic. Kulka and Rudolph both played the part of stereotypical ’30s high schoolers well while simultaneously showing the descent into reefer madness with extreme talent. Otter, along with Liam Kelley, Mason Weiss and Lauren Scott, who played Ralph, Jack and Mae, respectively, were all extremely entertaining — especially when playing some of the satirical characters of the play. The entire background ensemble showed a wonderful level of passion during every scene, and their delivery of the songs was simply brilliant.

I found myself walking out of the play humming the theme to “Reefer Madness,” and the performance of every single song was done very well. I always love to see a different take on the orchestra used in many musical performances, and the band did not fail to deliver. The conductor, David Hörger, should be extremely proud of his ensemble, who filled the room better than many full orchestras I have seen before. The soundtrack was catchy, and the feel of the music was perfect for the performance.

Thematically, the play was intense. Although the musical is a comedy, there were many parts where I very much understood the age rating of the show. Although the cast and crew delivered the play professionally, some might find certain scenes offensive. I simply wish to recognize the art of theater as just that — art — and that the play fits extremely well into today’s time and place, where marijuana is such a topic of debate here in Colorado.

Final Rating: A+

Overall, this is a story told extremely well, with a fantastic set and captivating cast who had me laughing during the entire show. I strongly recommend for anyone to see “Reefer Madness,” which will be playing at the UCA through the end of the week.

Collegian Reporter and Columnist Chapman W. Croskell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @Nescwick.