This show made its world premier in 1998, and wouldn’t really enter the public consciousness until it was filmed for television in 2005, but I’m covering it here because the original off-Broadway production opened in 2001. One of the many reasons that I don’t buy into the Broadway-is-dead bullshit: something very interesting has been going on in the past decade-or-so. For the rock fans among you: remember how in the Nineties alternative rock went into the mainstream and bands like Nirvana, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins were among the biggest mainstream pop acts of the decade? Well, the musical-theater equivalent of that has been happening in the 2000s. There had been off-Broadway transfers before this point, but even the ones thought really shocking in their time (like Hairand Rent) were relatively normal shows–I mean to say, they may have been iconoclastic and countercultural, but they weren’t bizarre. But starting around the turn of the century, things changed, and shows that previously would have been simply countercultural cult curiosities have achieved either genuine mainstream success, or at least much larger and more visible cult followings than musicals of their sort ever did in the past. It started in 2001, when Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a musical about a German transsexual singer, was made into a film…an independent film, granted, but still one that afforded it a much wider audience than an off-Broadway shock-art show generally has. In the next several years, three extremely strange off-Broadway shows that we’ll get to later were enormous hits on Broadway, and two more films were made, one of the gory dystopic camp-tragedy Repo: the Genetic Opera, and the other of this show. Now, it has to be acknowledged that the film of the Reefer Madness musical ultimately improves upon the stage show, adding some wonderful new songs (like the melodious “Mary Jane/Mary Lane”) and exploring the possibilities of the film medium and access to an all-star cast. But the fact remains that in any incarnation this is a superb show, with a sharp and tuneful score and a genuine sense of wit. Its approach is closer to, say, Little Shop of Horrors than the Xanadu stage version, as it goes for straight satire rather than intentional camp. The songs are bitingly sharp and clever and range in style from the period swing of “Down At the Ol’ Five and Dime” to showstopping rock numbers like the unforgettable “Listen To Jesus, Jimmy”. The tone varies from the sickeningly innocent “Romeo and Juliet” and the manically cheerful “The Brownie Song” to the darkly sizzling “The Stuff” and the twisted “Little Mary Sunshine”. As I said, this show was something of a sleeper and wouldn’t really receive much attention until it became a home-video curiosity, but it’s worth noting here for its later significance and its merit as a composition.