When it comes to a cult film like Reefer Madness, one wonders what more can be explored in an already absurd collection of cautionary marijuana tales. Luckily, the San Jose Stage Company finds something new by embracing something old: the original script of the 1936 film itself, to which it shows commendable loyalty. Reefer Madness: The Musical, by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, brings to life the uproarious and downright farcical story of a young man’s descent into marijuana-induced lunacy with a multitalented cast, fantastic choreography, and an immersive and smoky setting where one almost feels a contact high.

The show opens with a “lecture” on a drug called “marihuana,” presented by the erudite but charismatic narrator (Galen Murphy-Hoffman). The audience is introduced to a pair of wholesome teenagers, Jimmy and Mary (Barnaby James and Courtney Hatcher). The story then jumps to the so-called Reefer Den, where we meet Mae (Allison F. Rich), a sultry hostess who is bound to her abusive boyfriend, Jack (Gabriel Grilli), through her addiction to the substance. 

Next comes a visit to the soda fountain, where the youth enjoy the controversial “race” music—i.e., jazz—of the time and where Jack trolls for potential victims. Jack takes Jimmy to the Reefer Den, where they meet a zany collection of people, including Sally (Jill Miller), an irresponsible and outlandish mother, and Ralph (Will Springhorn Jr.), whose messy clothing and behavior are typical of a marijuana user. Once Jimmy gets a taste for the reefer, his world goes spiraling out of control.

Stage Company’s ability to translate a loud and frenetic musical into an intimate setting was astounding. The song routines were seamlessly choreographed, with the solid background band incorporated into the show (at several points, cast members pass joints to the backing band, cleverly breaking the fourth wall). The cast members are strong in acting, dancing and singing—and quick costume changes. Stand-outs include the narrator (Murphy-Hoffman), and Jack/Jesus (Grilli). Both actors superbly capture the preposterous confidence their characters demand, while still maintaining the subtle agreement between cast and audience about the silly premise of the show. 

The clever conceit behind Reefer Madness:The Musical is to keep all of the original silliness but to add phenomenal acting and singing. That happy result is that this entertaining homage could well keep this old and misguided cautionary tale alive for another generation or two. Reefer Madness has finally gotten its own, and desperately needed, fix.

Reefer Madness
Wednesday-Thursday, 7:30pm, Friday-Saturday, 8pm, and Sunday, 2pm; $16.50-$45
San Jose Stage Company