The sign of the success of Equinox Theatre Company’s “Reefer Madness: The Musical” is that one doesn’t have to be imbibing the devil’s weed to enjoy the show.
“Reefer Madness: The Musical” is a tongue-in-cheek parody of the 1936 anti-pot flick “Reefer Madness,” which is itself an unintentionally hilarious condemnation of marijuana use.
The show is set as a high school musical meant as a public service announcement about the dangers of marijuana. This allows for the fourth wall to be broken down whenever it serves the goal of producing a good laugh. And the plot seems right out of a Jeff Sessions wet dream.
A good, white Christian from middle America is tricked into marijuana use because he wants to learn swing dancing. Smoking “the stuff” leads him into a downward spiral of sex-crazed mania that ends up in murder, the death of his high school sweetheart and the rejection of white Jesus.
The Equinox’s production has really captured the look and feel of the original film, to the show’s benefit. Todd Black, who plays The Lecturer with all the fire and brimstone of a street corner preacher during Mardi Gras, is often making his speeches in the most horrific mood lighting that perfectly echoes the ridiculous tone of the movie.
Andrew Alber as the wayward Jimmy and Emily Ebertz as his sweetheart Mary Lane are what make this show a success. Alber and Ebertz have perfect chemistry together and the comedic chops to sell the most ludicrous lines of dialogue. But it’s their vocal talent that makes this an enjoyable musical. Their duets are some of the best parts of this show.
Aimee Corley is another high point. She plays the weed-addicted Mae who runs the pot den that makes an opium den look like a 4-H club. Corley imbues her character with personality and conflict, something that is unexpected in a musical that uses placards to literally hammer home the message. Her transformation is heartfelt and adds a level of humanity to an otherwise absurd script.
While it’s an enjoyable show, it feels too long in some respects. Alber and Ebertz are great but even their talent isn’t enough to keep the premise fresh by the end of it all. There’s only so many “pot is evil” jokes one can make before it becomes a little repetitive.
Another hit against the show has nothing to do with the production and everything to do with the source material itself. The 1936 movie is full of all the racist language and imagery one would expect from that time period. And the musical tries a few times to capture that racism and harness it to make fun of its existence in the movie.
But instead of parodying the racism to diminish its power, think Mel Brooks “Blazing Saddles,” it seems like the script just puts the racism out there and expects the audience to go, “Oh yeah, that’s racist and there for ridiculous. So it’s funny.”
In a show that works so hard to make the point that paranoia about marijuana is absurd, there is little effort to make the same point about the racism inherent in the subject matter.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Equinox Theatre Company’s“Reefer Madness: The Musical”
Playing now through April 28 at The Bug Theater at 3654 Navajo St. For tickets and more information, visit equinoxtheatredenver.com or call 303-477-5977.