Review: 'Reefer Madness' at Ray of Light Theatre

Jordan Nickels

When it comes to modern day musical comedies, parodies and adaptations bring us the right amount of entertainment, along with commentary on our culture. Reefer Madness does just that against the hilariousness of our country’s crusade against marijuana use. Based off a PSA made in the late 1930s. though serious in tone, inspired parody on the lengths filmmakers went to link marijuana as a gateway drug to various forms of crime and villainy. Ray of Light Theatre represented the humor and politics of this musical brilliantly at the Victoria Theater.

The Lecturer sets the scene as a young American high school couple, Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, are introduced to Jack and seduced by the alluring temptation of marijuana. Jimmy falls deeper into a hole as he does everything from stealing money from a church to biting the ear off a dog, as Mary’s drug trip turns a naïve church girl into a crazed nymphomaniac.

The cast was led by Leah Shesky as the Lecturer, who switched between a variety of characters, shining as the eccentric yet conservative narrator. Phil Wong (Jimmy) had superb comedic and singing chops, along with the dancing ability of a bubbly Brigitte Losey (Mary Lane). Rounding out the cast was Matt Hammons as Jack and a scene-stealing Jesus (yes, Jesus Christ himself) and the incredible vocals of Ashley Garlick as Mae. Credit should also go to choreographer Alex Rodriguez, for the incredibly tight ensemble numbers.

Director Jenn Bevard wanted to explore the relation between Reefer Madness in the 1930s and “the propaganda still churning” in 2017 against laws now being passed to legalized marijuana. When watching this musical, you really don’t think of the politics of Reefer Madness after laughing so hard at the absurdity of the Lecturer’s claims. However, one line hit me during the song “Tell ‘Em The Truth” near the finale: When danger's near, exploit their fear. The end will justify the means!

I don’t want to get to much into politics here, but that line really hit home with me within the highly politicized culture we live in now. We currently live in a society of fake news, used as the new propaganda against weed or otherwise. It’s refreshing to see a production like this one throw political correctness out the window, in a time when few take that opportunity in comedy or theater.

I walked into the Victoria Theater not expecting much from the little marijuana musical. However, I left satisfied and blown away, along with a packed house who also share Ray of Light’s love of cult movies turned live theatrical productions. Their next production is another B-movie classic, The Rocky Horror Show, and I encourage you to check out this hidden gem in the San Francisco theatre community. Reefer Madness was brilliantly crude, vulgar, and outrageous, reaching new highs for musical theater. Literally.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website:, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.

Photo Credit Zac Wollons — with Phil Wong and Christen Sottolano