"Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical" is a meta-musical, because unlike "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" it works best based upon your knowledge of the original cinematic text, anti-drug propaganda, and certain aspects of 20th century American history. In the 1936 film "Reefer Madness" a school principal tells a group of parents the cautionary tale of two high school kids, Bill Harper and Mary Lane, who attend a party at the apartment of shady adults Jack and Mae where joints are given away free to get the kids hooked. Mary's kid brother Jimmy runs somebody down high on weed and Jack ends up framing Bill for shooting Mary.
For "Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical" the story remains basically the same, although now the Bill and Jimmy are combined so the kid in trouble is now Jimmy "the Cannibis Killer" Harper (Christian Campbell), which is an economical change. But the more significant change is that instead of an academic figure the lecture is now given by a person (Alan Cumming) with obvious but unnamed connections to the forces of government who are overly concerned with the need for vigilance. Although much is made of William Randolph Heart's efforts to stomp our marijuana because hemp producers threatened his logging interests, the lecturer is decidedly a figure of the 1950s in terms of fear mongering, casting aspirations regarding patriotism, and emphasizing decency. One of the best elements in the film's satire has an audience member taking exception to some wild claim that the lecturer has made. But every time Mr. Kochinski (Stephen E. Miller) finds something far fetched, the lecturer hits back by quoting cold hard "facts" from Heart's newspaper.
For me the part where I knew that creators Kevin Murjphy and Dan Studney were cooking with grass in this one was when they took the scene from early in the original, where Jimmy and Mary are doing their adolescent take on some lines from "Romeo & Juliet," and turn it into a running joke because Mary (Kristin Bell) is a blonde this time, which means she does not know it is a tragedy and keeps hoping that she and Jimmy end up with the same sort of happy ending Shakespeare wrote about (Jimmy assures her they have six kids). Bell provides the standout performance in the musical, which surprised me a bit because she was so lackluster at the Emmy Awards this year. No wonder they make sure her character is around for the big finish even though she is dead (being happy but hemorrhaging blood will do that to you).
Overall the production numbers are better than the songs, which means you will be more interested in watching "Listen to Jesus, Jimmy" or "Little Mary Sunshine" over and over again than in singing along (there are not subtitles for the DVD but you can turn on close captioning to get the lyrics if you insist on doing so). Beyond the two leads, both of whom are reprising their original off-Broadway roles, the rest of the cast gets to pop up in supporting roles throughout the show, so keep an eye out for that. The cast includes Steven Weber as Jack, Ana Gasteyer as Mae, John Kassir as Ralph (the piano player who laughs maniacally at the drop of a hat), Amy Spanger as Sally ("She fell down!"), Christian's kid sister Neve Campbell as Miss Poppy, and Robert Torti as Jesus. Kassir and Torti are the other two original cast members (although the other roles played by Torti are now done by Weber).
The original "Reefer Madness" is included on this DVD, so you can (re)familiarize yourself with the source material (I had already rented the original on a DVD that also included "Marijuana" and "Assassin of Youth," but I appreciate the effort). There is also SHOWTIME's short featurette on the history of the musical and the cable version, and a commentary track with directory Andy Rickman, producers Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, and cast members Christian Campbell and Amy Spanger. Throw in the requisite Cast Biographies, Photo Gallery, and Coming Soon trailers for more SHOWTIME original movies and programming. Be aware that the CD out there is for the off-Broadway show and not the soundtrack for this version.