Not unlike a stoner confronted with the choice between a fresh bag of crunchy, nacho-cheesy Doritos and a plate of warm, gooey, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies, I am completely and utterly conflicted. It’s not a simple, cannabis-induced outbreak of the munchies that bemuses me though.
Instead, it’s how to communicate to you, gentle reader, the experience that is REEFER MANIA!
A self-described “vaudevillesque pot opera,” REEFER MANIA! is an all-singing, all-dancing ode to all things marijuana. Only it’s not. Though it purports to present more than 90 years of pot-related music and “pot culture,” it feels fixed in the 1920s-1950s range. Now, I’m no expert on the subject, but outside of a nod to the recent advent of Colorado’s medical marijuana clinics, I didn’t catch one reference — musical or otherwise — to weed as we’ve known it during the past 40 or so years.
To be sure, hearing Mary Jane (Reyna Von Vett) and her stash bag of backup beauties, Ice Princess (Sithea LaFee), Kaya (Frangelica Love), Speed Queen (Sarah Bellum) and The Cat (Petra Puse), belt out really oldschool pot tunes like “When I Get Low I Get High” and “Save the Roach for Me” is a thrill in the beginning. It’s a slice of Americana much of America (I’m looking at you, Colorado Springs) wants everyone to forget. But it feels like the Victrola needle gets stuck pre-flower children, and the effect becomes repetitious. Where are the ganja classics of Cheech & Chong or Cypress Hill? Where, even, is the name-checking of Jay and Silent Bob or Michael Phelps?
Are you beginning to see why I’m not sure how much praise to pack into the bowl of this show? Musical historians and pot historians alike will thrill to the material. There are so many antiquated references to the sticky icky that a glossary is included in the program. I mean, who knew that every time Mom Doe encourages little Johnny to drink all his milk so that he can “get tall” that she’s actually exhorting him to get baked out of his mind? Yet, with a few exceptions — most notably an actual opera number and a song about getting drunk rather than getting high — one song blends into another without much variation.
The ladies are all game and seem genuinely invested in their performances. Von Vett, who the press notes inform us performed for more than a million people during a stint in Mama Mia! in Las Vegas, ringleads confidently in the Mae West style. The rest of the ladies dance the hell out of everything from kick lines to burlesque numbers. Oh yes, fitting perfectly with the retro theme, there are pasties aplenty in REEFER MANIA!, and a few of these numbers greatly exceed expectations. If you’ve ever wanted to see women dressed as cockroaches dance a burlesque to “La Cucaracha,” this is the show for you.
In case you’re thinking that I’m just some square who, like, doesn’t get it, man, rest assured that I performed my journalistic duties to the fullest on the night I attended REEFER MANIA! I made sure to bring a friend fresh off the Bong Water Express so that he could provide the opinion of someone in the target demographic for this type of production. He, like me, neither loved nor hated it, and he assured me that even with his augmented senses of humor and hunger, there was just something missing from the show.
REEFER MANIA! owes its name and, really, its entire existence to the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film-turned-cult-comedy-classic, Reefer Madness.
Clips of the movie are interspersed with the various numbers in REEFER MANIA! Maybe if Von Vett and the rest had taken more than just inspiration from the movie by adding some hint of a plot or a broader cultural perspective, I wouldn’t have felt myself thinking, “Aw!” every time a scene from Reefer Madness ended and one from REEFER MANIA! began.
On the Bill
REEFER MANIA! plays through July 3 at the
Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington St., in Denver. Tickets are $18.
For tickets or information call 303- 295-1883 or visit www.denvercrossroads.com.