BY KELLY DOLEJSI
Los Alamos Little Theatre
This November, Los Alamos Little Theatre’s 80th anniversary season builds up steam — or, ahem, smoke — with the musical “Reefer Madness,” written by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, about two wholesome teens gone — literally — to pot.
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 3-18, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Nov. 12. Tickets are $30 at the door or at lalt.org. Groups of four can take advantage of the “420 Special,” wherein groups of four tickets can be purchased at a discounted price of $20 per ticket.
Based on the 1936 propaganda film of the same name, the musical comedy tells a cautionary tale of the dangers of cannabis usage. Producer Wendy Caldwell Lanchier said the satirical approach “conveys a timeless message about why, despite being paved with good intentions, some roads lead to hell.”
Director Megan Pimental said one of the best parts of directing “Reefer Madness” has been working with the cast, which includes Matt DeSmith (Lecturer), Joseph Lahmann (Jimmy), Katherine Swager (Mary), Josh Bartlett (Jack), Andrea Albert (Mae), Collin McDowell (Ralph), Mary O’Brien (Sally), Kelsey Denissen (Placard Girl)), and Scot Johnson (Mr. Poppy/Ensemble) as well as Cami Charonko, Jenny Mills, and Alex DiBranco in the ensemble.
In addition to Pimentel and Caldwell Lanchier, the production crew includes Music Director Nick Denissen, Stage Manager Hadley Hershey, Tech Director Stacy Buck, and Choreographer Jessica Cowan. Caldwell Lanchier also worked as a choreographer for the show.
Denissen called the show “a rock musical at heart,” but said the songs span a range of genres including swing, Latin, funk, and more.
“The songs will be new to most people in the audience, but they are very catchy, and I think you’ll catch yourself singing them all week,” he said. “Also, like the rest of the show, the songs are very funny. I’ll have to build in time for laughter in the middle of some of the songs.”
Denissen said this is the first LALT or Los Alamos Light Opera musical for everyone in the band but him, “so it’s been a great way to expand our participation on the instrumental side.”
Pimentel said she also loves that the story is relevant to a variety of harmful issues.
“I love that we modernized the themes to make them relevant to local current events such as anti-vaxers and the recent drag story-hour controversy,” she said. “One thing I appreciate about the show is that it is fun but expresses serious themes that are relevant to many issues.”
Denissen agreed. “One of the great things about ‘Reefer Madness’ is the message can be as deep as you want it to be,” he said. “At its simplest, it’s just a hilarious satire of a historically terrible movie from the 1930s. You can choose to broaden the scope and appreciate how it satirizes not just the anti-marijuana/temperance movements of the time (recall Prohibition had ended just a few years prior) but groups today that use propaganda to exploit people’s fears, patriotism, religion, etc. to promote an agenda.”
Denissen said you can go even “more meta, and appreciate the irony that the overwhelming majority of the cast/crew can’t use marijuana because of our jobs at the lab, despite it now being legal under New Mexico law. The LALT production of ‘Reefer Madness’ probably has the least experience with marijuana of any group to put on this show. We had to watch youtube videos to teach us how to roll fake joints.”
Still, one might wonder: Does “Reefer Madness” promote drug use among teens?
The short answer is no.
“I think anyone who watches the show would be hard-pressed to conclude it is ‘pro-marijuana,’” Denissen said. “ I believe the central message of the show is anti-propaganda, not pro-drug-use.”
Pimentel concurred, adding, “The story focuses around the concept of teenagers getting addicted to weed as a way to satirize the stigmatization and fear that was held in the original 1930s film, but I don’t think that it is actually advocating for marijuana use among teenagers. It is more expressing that authority figures often try to use fear tactics in order to gain more control.”
Rather than promoting drug abuse, she said, “This show is about how harmful misinformation and propaganda can be.”
“Substance abuse of any kind, whether it’s marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes/vaping, or prescription/illegal drugs, is a complex and serious issue. Satire like ‘Reefer Madness’ is an important tool for resetting the conversation when parts of the discussion have gotten out of hand,” Denissen said. “People with opposing viewpoints can share a laugh, tone down the rhetoric, and try to dig into the real complexity of the issues we face as a community.”
Parents, take note: “Reefer Madness” is intended for mature audiences. Depictions/discussions/allusions to substance use, child abuse/neglect, sexual situations, sexual assault, and violence appear in the show. Though some of these occurrences are satirized/exaggerated, discretion is advised.
Speaking as president of the LALT board, a position Pimentel has held for more than a year, Pimentel said, “The Los Alamos Little Theatre encourages its members to put on shows they are excited about. The board decided that the excitement for ‘Reefer Madness’ had good energy and that it could be a fun musical to add to the 2023-24 season.”
In order to receive the 420 Special, ticket-buyers must purchase all four tickets at the same time on the same transaction. Tickets purchased with the 420 Special may not be refunded individually; refunds may only be processed on the entire order of four tickets.
“Reefer Madness” scriptwriters Dan Studley and Kevin Murphy wrote the music (Studley) and lyrics (Murphy) as well. Originally directed by Andy Fickman and produced by Stephanie Steele for Dead Old Man Productions, the musical is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals. For more information, visit www.concordtheatricals.com.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a variety of resources. www.samhsa.gov, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
If you or someone you know is experiencing or has experienced domestic/intimate partner violence, there is a National Domestic Violence Hotline available 24/7. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text START to 88788. The website, www.thehotline.org, also has a live chat feature.