BWW Reviews: TUTS Underground's Production of REEFER MADNESS is HIGH-lariously Good

L to R: Taylor Beyer, Dylan Godwin and Sean McGee

TUTS Underground is hitting the "high" notes with its second season opener REEFER MADNESS. Excuse all of the bad puns, but it's really only appropriate with show that's a satire musical based on a 1936 propaganda film of the same name. Yes that's right, in 1936 in order to dispel the perils of the evil drug reefer to the denizens of the country; a highly stylized and cheesy film was created. Perhaps, it was taken seriously as marijuana was illegalized a year later. However decades later the film was re-introduced in the 1970s and audiences recognized the absurdity of the film's depictions of the effects of marijuana, thus it became a cult classic for many due to it being "so bad it's good" and was lauded for being outlandish and causing unintentional hilarity. This was the perfect material for the musical REEFER MADNESS which was brought to life in 1998 with book and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and music by Dan Studney.

The story focuses on two All-American and clean cut high school sweethearts Jimmy (Sean McGee) and Mary Lane (Taylor Beyer). They want to grow up together, have babies, lots of friends and end up happily ever after like their favorite couple "Romeo and Juliet" (a story in which they don't know the dismal ending). Well much like their favorite couple, they are pulled apart and struggle against the odds of being together. Jimmy, under the pretense that he's getting some jazz dance lessons, gets sucked into the lair of a reefer den and after one puff of what they have to offer; he becomes hooked and quickly abandons everything he knows. His fall from grace into a world of debauchery and sexual promiscuity brings on the mayhem as he struggles to choose between the hypnotizing Mary Jane, and his sweetheart Mary Lane.

Bringing this story to life is the Lecturer played by Dylan Godwin. He's the host and narrator of the evening and is full of natural charisma, mixed with a smidge of mock seriousness, he takes the audience through the story's events, all the while reminding us that this can happen to our children too. Godwin excels in his role as he expertly navigates the audience through scenes and situations; many of which he participates in. His performance is phenomenal. Using his versatile singing and speaking voices to move from character to character, he keeps a precise hold on the audience's attention.

As good apple gone bad Jimmy, Sean McGee is divine. His short period being sweet and wholesome was endearing to watch, but once he got hooked on reefer he became extremely engaging. With dynamic vocal power and the energy to go along with it, he plows around stage in a scarily convincing frenzied mania.

Taylor Beyer plays the fresh faced Mary Lane that catches Jimmy's eye. The bright eyed Beyer looks like angel, acts like an angel and even sings like an angel. It was lovely watching her in tender moments with Jimmy, even after his downfall. It was also enjoyable watching her unfortunate downfall as she becomes caught in the web of the reefer den.

The owner of the lair that is the reefer den is Mae played by Kristin Warren. Mae is victimized and abused by both of her lovers; the reefer and Jack Stone. They both keep her down and Warren excels in her exaggerating portrayal of someone who is conflicted by her need for the green stuff and her wish to keep poor unsuspecting kids from becoming hopelessly addicted like her. With a killer voice and attitude she gives Mae plenty of humor and heart.

The pusher of what's causing the madness is Nick Henderson as Jack Stone. He's the rough around the edges yet smooth talking dealer. There's not really anything to like about his character, but Henderson's Jack has great pipes and a commanding demeanor as he bullies everyone into doing reefer. On the flip side, Henderson ironically also plays a super cool Jesus (complete with a chorus of showgirl angels) and hits the likeable jackpot with his attempt to turn Jimmy away from the evil weed.

Sally, played by Brooke Wilson, is one of the reefer den's most appealing regulars. It's easy to see why Jimmy fell for her and the evil weed. She is seducing and bewitching with a voice and exquisitely precise body language, you just can't get out of your head. She certainly would win any awards for mother of the year, but I could see her winning Miss Congeniality with how erm "friendly" she is with everyone.

Brooke Wilson and Sean McGee

Some of the most unsuspecting laughs came from Ralph played by Mark Ivy. As another regular of the reefer den, his character is the most far gone. Ivy's animalistic and manic nature is a hoot and he has some real outstanding parts that will send you into a laughing fit.

The ensemble is sublime. They come together in a cohesive unit and go for broke in this cheese-filled satire. All the actors are exceptionally talented. The ensemble members of REEFER MADNESS are a true chorus in complete harmony with one another. In addition they leave a little wiggle room for each have a chance to showcase individual characterizations in some of their appearances as a group. The great ensemble smoothly transforms from reefer crazed zombies, to high school teens, to angels all in the same show. As well as dancing, singing and managing many demanding costume changes, the ensemble is responsible for all of the set's many changes.

The ensemble works hard and the designers do too. The creative team also matched the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the script. The choreography, by Dana Lewis is delightful and strong. Set designer Ryan McGettigan kept up with the cartoonish nature of the show by going with a comic book style theme, which was visually interesting and worked well. The costumes from Amanda Wolff are superb. The period clothes are fitting, and the many other pieces that get worn throughout the show are highly imaginative giving way to a little raunchiness, a little sweetness, and lots of silliness. Thanks to musical director and conductor Jack Beetle, the show is a perfect example of impressive, finely tuned musical performances.

A musical this wacky needs a strong cast and Director Bruce Lumpkin leads just that. They are top-notch with their high caliber cartoonish dramatics, that involve manic physicality and an abundance of overdramatic flair. With careful direction, it's over the top and embraces all the zaniness that one would expect from a show title REEFER MADNESS without feeling forced and over-done. Most surprisingly, you can still feel for these characters and they hold a touch of realness to them.The flow pacing of the show is excellent and is so engrossing that the first act seemed to fly by.

REEFER MADNESS, based on the 1936 cult film that warned parents of the dire effects of "the demon weed" on the clean-cut youth of America, is a silly campy show brought to full song-and-dance spectacle by TUTS Underground. Will REEFER MADNESS dramatically change your life? No. Will it sway your opinion on the evil devil weed? Probably not. Will it be the HIGH-light of your week once you go see TUTS Underground's production? Yes! After all the REEFER MADNESS going on you won't be disappointed and will certainly leave with a case of the giggles.

REERFER MADNESS runs at the Zilkha Hall of The Hobby Center through October 5th. For tickets and more information please visit

Photos by Christian Brown. Courtesy of TUTS Underground.

Taylor Beyer and Sean McGee with Ensemble of TUTS Underground's REEFER MADNESS
Sean Mcgee and Dylan Godwin with Ensemble of TUTS Underground's REEFER MADNESS
L to R: Kristin Warren, Mark Ivy and Brooke Wilson
Sean McGee and Nick Henderson with Ensemble of TUTS Undergorund's REEFER MADNESS


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