The year is 1938. As the play opens, the Lecturer, a stern authority figure, informs the audience of the new drug menace, "marihuana", which threatens the American way of life. (His warnings are reinforced by the Placard Girl, who throughout the play holds up large signs that clearly state scenes' moral lessons.) From his podium, the Lecturer warns the audience that action must be taken immediately, before the Good Ol' U.S.A. succumbs to the Demon Weed ("Reefer Madness "). The Lecturer illustrates his point, introducing us to Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, a lovable pair of wholesome teens who hold hands, sip hot cocoa, and think pure thoughts while studying Shakespeare for English class ("Romeo and Juliet ").
The Lecturer then shows us the seamier side of life at the Reefer Den, populated by drug-addled Denizens of the Night. We meet Mae, the Reefer Den hostess, who is abused by her slick, pusher boyfriend Jack. She'd leave him, but Jack keeps her supplied with the marijuana she craves ("The Stuff "), despite his physical abuse.
The Lecturer brings us now to the five and dime, a local teen hangout where wholesome kids indulge in the risqué rhythms of "swing-jazz" music, as performed by Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and other "ginger-colored agents of evil" ("Down at the Ol' Five and Dime "). The Lecturer assumes the guise of kindly Mr. Poppy, the singing and dancing proprietor.
Jack, trolling for youthful victims, arrives at the five and dime, where he meets Jimmy and lures him back to the Reefer Den to experience "a real party". There, Jimmy encounters Ralph, a psychotic ex-college student who communicates primarily with cackling, maniacal laughter. He also meets Sally, a reefer slut who both supports her love child and pays for her habit with the only currency she possesses - her generously proportioned body. Jimmy is pressured into taking his first hit of marihuana and tastes the forbidden fruits of sensual abandon in a wild hallucinatory dance sequence featuring weird sex, belly dancers, fire eaters, and Goat-Man, a frightening satyr played by the Lecturer ("Jimmy takes a hit/The Orgy ").
Over the next few weeks, we watch Jimmy make a terrifying transition from "good egg" to "bad apple". He mouths off to his parents, brutalizes a puppy, and even attempts to tongue-kiss a shocked Mary, sending her running off in tears. Alone in church, Mary prays that her sweetheart will regain his senses and return to her ("Lonely Pew ").
Later, Jimmy and Ralph break into the church to steal from the poor box. While Ralph goes off to smoke some frankincense, Jimmy suddenly receives a heavenly vision...Jesus Christ himself! Flanked by a chorus of singing cherubim, Jesus (played by Jack) warns Jimmy (in a Tom Jones-style production number) to kick his reefer habit or suffer eternal damnation ("Listen to Jesus, Jimmy "). Jimmy scoffs at the Son of God's message. Angels weep.
Back at the Reefer Den, Jimmy is completely out of control. A desperate Mae warns Jimmy to avoid her own mistakes - he must escape the Reefer Den while he is still able. The drug-addled Jimmy, however, won't listen. Even the revelation that Sally has sold her baby for drug money fails to snap him out of it. Sally's baby (played by Ralph) appears and sings a plaintive solo ("Lullabye ").
Jimmy's bad behavior culminates with his stealing Mary's Packard and taking it for a reckless, reefer-induced joyride with Sally. His joy, however, proves short-lived - Sally, who is driving, runs over a helpless old man crossing the street, killing him.
Finally shocked out of his reefer haze, Jimmy returns the stolen Packard to Mary's house and apologizes to her, pledging his love ("Mary Jane/Mary Lane ".) They kiss. Before he can give her his school ring as a token of his undying love, a siren sounds in the distance. The fugitive Jimmy realizes that he must get far away from Mary lest he bring her down with him. He runs off into the night with no explanation. Mary doesn't know the exact nature of Jimmy's demons, but she vows he will not face them alone. She drives her Packard into the night in search of "her poor lost Romeo".
Meanwhile, back at the Reefer Den, Jack and Mae hear a radio broadcast announcing the hit-and-run accident. Police are looking for a young man in a late-model Packard. Jack, fearing Jimmy will get arrested and lead the cops back to him, grabs a pistol and ominously vows to bring Jimmy back to the Reefer Den - "one way or another" ("Act 1 finale").
hallucinatory visions of Ralph, Sally and Mae appear as Jazz Trio Backup Girls ("Jimmy on the Lam "). The Lecturer brings us up to date - Jimmy's on the lam and Mary's "combing the rain-spattered streets in search of her wayward young man." Jimmy arrives at the local train station and attempts to purchase a one-way ticket for "Parts Unknown".
Before Jimmy can board the train, Jack appears and tries to convince Jimmy to return to the Reefer Den with him. Jimmy refuses; he promised himself he'd never smoke marijuana again. Jack tricks Jimmy by offering him a seemingly innocent brownie. Jimmy thinks this is the best brownie he's ever eaten in his life. The train station patrons join him in a song extolling the many virtues of said brownie ("the brownie song"). Jimmy is hooked once again.
Meanwhile, Mary makes inquiries at the five and dime. Kindly Mr. Poppy provides Mary with the address of the Reefer Den. The naive Mary leaves, grateful for Mr. Poppy's assistance. As soon as Mary is out of earshot, Mr. Poppy telephones the Reefer Den and tells Ralph to inform Jack that an unsuspecting new "client" is on her way over. We learn that Mr. Poppy is secretly on Jack's payroll. He helps Jack "trundle little children off to pay the wages of sin" ("Five and Dime" reprise).
Back at the Reefer Den, Sally drags Jimmy upstairs for a weed-whacked sexual liaison. When Mary arrives looking for Jimmy, the lecherous Ralph is lying in wait. He tries to seduce Mary by tricking her into smoking marijuana herself ("little mary sunshine"). The plan backfires - the power of the weed is so great, it immediately transforms the virginal Mary into a whip-cracking sadomasochist who enslaves the frightened Ralph. Upon discovering Mary and Ralph in a compromising position, a smoke-addled Jimmy attacks Ralph. A scuffle ensues. Jimmy is knocked unconscious and Jack accidentally shoots Mary through the heart. The villainous Jack places the gun in the unconscious Jimmy's hand. Jimmy, who remembers nothing, is convinced that he has murdered his beloved "Juliet". Mary regains consciousness long enough for Jimmy to finally give her his school ring. She dies in his arms ("mary's death").
As the police pull up in front of the house, Mae tells Jimmy that he's innocent of the crime and that Jack is planning to frame him. A police inspector (played by the Lecturer) bursts in. Jack accuses Jimmy of murdering Mary while "hopped up" on reefer. Jimmy begs Mae to tell the truth and exonerate him. Mae, however, is too weak and too dependent on the "stuff" Jack gives her. She remains silent and Jimmy is dragged away to stand trial.
A few weeks later. Ralph, Mae, and Sally are racked with guilt as they listen to Winchell announce Jimmy Harper's conviction and death sentence. Ralph, who has been smoking non-stop, is becoming seriously unhinged. He sees hallucinatory visions: the ghost of doomed Jimmy, dead Mary in Hell being sodomized by the Devil, and the zombie remnants of all the kids destroyed by reefer. Imaginary reefer vines drop from the ceiling, ensnaring him. All the while, Ralph, stricken with a severe case of the munchies, moans about starving to death. Fearing that Ralph's insane caterwauling will prompt a neighbor to call the cops, Jack and Mae leave to get Ralph something to eat. Sally is instructed to remain behind and keep Ralph quiet. When Jack and Mae return with Chinese food, they catch Ralph in the act of gnawing on Sally's severed arm - he has eaten Sally alive! Ralph, now a cackling reefer-fueled cannibal, turns on Mae and Jack. Jack shoots Ralph repeatedly. He dies laughing. The shock of all this causes Mae's mind to snap - she's surrounded by the angry visions of Ralph, Sally, Mary, Goat-Man, Jimmy, and the Zombies ("murder!"). Jack warns the unhinged Mae that the world is kill or be killed; "the winner is the last one left alive."
Mae decides the only way to find inner peace is to turn herself in and save Jimmy from the electric chair. Jack tries to bring Mae back to her senses in his usual fashion - by giving her a smoke. Mae stubs it out. An angry Jack slaps her for wasting "half a jay of good mooter". Mae reacts with cold fury and picks up a hoe from the victory garden. Frightened by Mae's intensity, Jack tries to shoot her - alas, he expended all his bullets on Ralph! Mae sings as she slashes Jack with the garden hoe, avenging the deaths of Sally, Ralph, Mary, and every other poor kid Jack has ever hooked on marijuana (The Stuff (reprise)). Fountains of blood spray over the stage. Finally, Mae runs off to save Jimmy.
Meanwhile, in an execution chamber, Jimmy walks the last mile and is strapped into the electric chair. Just as the Switch-Puller (played by Ralph) prepares to fry Jimmy, he is interrupted by a second visit from Jesus and his backup angels! They sing and dance ("Listen to Jesus Jimmy" (reprise)). Jimmy's immense relief is short-lived. It turns out Jesus has only come to gloat and watch the execution. Jimmy prepares to meet his fate - when a second interruption occurs.
This time it is Mae, who has obtained a Presidential pardon from none other than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (played by the Lecturer). President Roosevelt charges Jimmy with a sacred trust: to go forth into the land and warn other children to beware the dangers of reefer. The President promises Jimmy plenty of help getting the message out. The government will use the power of radio, the papers of William Randolph Hearst, and powerful iconography: Uncle Sam, George Washington, and Lady Liberty (played by Ralph, Jack and Sally respectively). This Patriotic Trio joins the group in a rousing production number, chock-full of American iconography ("Tell 'em the truth"). During the song, Jimmy leads the townspeople back to the Reefer Den and builds a gigantic bonfire to immolate bales of marijuana and other "dangerous items". Suddenly seeing the souls of those who died from reefer, Mae jumps out a window for no reason. Mary appears dressed as an angel, freed from Hell by Jimmy's heroic destruction of property, and ascends to heaven while vowing to wait in Heaven for Jimmy until he gets cancer or hit by a train. The crowd sings:
- And once the reefer has been destroyed
- We'll start on Darwin and Sigmund Freud
- And sex depicted on celluloid
- And communists and queens!
- When danger's near
- Exploit their fear -
- The end will justify the means!
In the finale all the characters assemble recite ridiculous morals about how Reefer has ruined them. Reefer madness (reprise)
Stephen colbert as the lecturer/Mr. Poppy/The goatman/Franklin delano roosevelt
Joseph Gordon lovett as Jimmy
Amanda Seyfried as Mary Lane
Seth Macfarlane as Jack/Jesus
Anne Hathaway as mae/Joan of Arc
John kassir as Ralph
Evan Rachel Wood as Sally