Scott Spence was relentless. For more than three years, he chased playwrights Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, begging to stage their quirky musical based on a 1936 propaganda film about the evils of smoking pot. But each time he asked, they said no. Either the show was playing to packed houses in Southern California, or it was about to make its off-Broadway debut.
Then, a year ago, out of the blue, Murphy called. "He said, 'I really appreciate you being so adamant about this. Would you mind if Dan and I have a conference call with you later tonight?'" recalls Spence, artistic director at the Beck Center for the Arts. That night, the trio worked out the details, and the playwrights gave Spence the green light to produce Reefer Madness at Beck's 83-seat Studio Theatre -- the production's first run outside L.A. and New York.
The show parodies the cult classic, a flick Spence calls "one of the worst movies in cinematic history, with probably some of the worst acting of the day." Like the nearly 70-year-old film, the stage musical centers on a pair of wholesome high-school kids, Jimmy and Mary, who hold hands and sip hot chocolate while studying Shakespeare. But Jimmy is lured to a party teeming with pot dealers and "reefer sluts." "After Jimmy takes one hit of marijuana, his life immediately goes all to hell, dragging everyone down with him," Spence says. The message is, "If you smoke reefer, you'll immediately rip off your cat's head and sell your mother to the devil."
And word on the street is that tickets will be tough to come by, because of the theater's size. That's why Spence has added two midnight shows to the run. "I really, really think this could rival Rocky Horror," says Spence. "Think Beaver Cleaver on acid."