Reefer Madness hits the Bug Theatre

Local theater presents witty propaganda
Photo: Sarai Nissan, Illustration: Ganessa Gutzait · The Sentry

On April 6, Reefer Madness: The Musical opened at Denver’s Bug Theatre. The show is an adaptation of the classic propaganda film of the same name from 1936 in which an unsuspecting young school boy is taken under the wing of a pot dealer and framed for murder.

In the 1970s, the film was rediscovered by stoners and became a cult classic for its outrageous plot and absurd insinuations, such as that marijuana makes smokers a murderer. This retelling of the classic stoner story turns up the absurdity to comic heights in a satire of the original film.

This musical adaptation follows a young couple, Jimmy and Mary, as they fall into a reefer den and become corrupted by the “leafy green assassin.”

Director Colin Roybal’s production of the musical focuses on today’s political climate, referencing the present day more than a few times over the course of the show. The political commentary on the marijuana industry is timely. The show eludes to Vice President Mike Pence, who, while governor, supported prohibition in Indiana.

“It’s just like the 1930s, you know, we’ve plunged ourselves into a depression, we’re trusting people who are telling us—giving us fake news to promote their agenda and that’s exactly what this [the musical] is: the biggest piece of propaganda fake news that came out of the 30s,” Roybal said in an interview.

The political satire comes to fruition in the song “Tell ‘Em the Truth,” a campy parody of an old Temperance song, during which Uncle Sam, George Washington, and the Statue of Liberty all grace the stage.

Though the ideas are important, the show is anything but high-brow—in the best way possible. At every turn, there’s a half-dressed zombie or sexually charged devil waiting to corrupt the American youth. There’s even a rousing appearance by Jesus, played by Patrick Brownson, who implores  Jimmy to get high on God in the song “Listen to Jesus Jimmy.” The audience was in stitches, cheering as Brownson strutted downstage like a cross between Elvis and a Christian youth pastor.

Other notable performances included Andrew Alber as a congenial Jimmy and Emily Ebertz’s Mary, whose voice shined through in her solo “Lonely Pew.” After the song one audience member—and one audience member only—broke into hysterical laughter. Though nothing can be smoked inside the theater, many audiences members left the building at intermission.

The technical aspects left some things to be desired, but it seemed the cast and crew were aware of that. The nature of the low-budget production was worked in as part of the joke when Todd Black, who played The Lecturer, among a myriad of other roles, turned to the set and said, “As you can see, no expense has been spared in this production!” However, the lighting was well designed and helped set the mood from scene to scene using spotlights to dramatize the lecturer’s monologue and an array of colors during the dream sequences.

As fun as it is meaningful, Reefer Madness belongs among the other great cult musicals of the age. This particular production offers students a great night out in the Mile High City.

Reefer Madness is running from April 6-28.

Bug Theatre

3654 Navajo St

$20 online, $25 door


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