I wasn't prepared to be enchanted by Leadville or Bust, which runs at the Crossroads Theater on Tuesday and Wednesday nights through August 13. I'd spoken at length to Reyna Von Vett and I knew how much time and energy she and others had put into the production, but the vibrance and vivacity of the final production totally blew me away.
It all started in Curtis Park, where Von Vett lives, with a neighborly chat with Ken Miller. "Everyone was talking about his strange little music collection," she remembers. "I came over one day, and he played me these funny, bawdy, naughty songs. These were fun, hysterical, bawdy pieces of music that I'd never even heard of before."
So Von Vett enlisted a little help from her friends; as she notes on the back of the Leadville or Bust program, many people pitched in and went above and beyond what she expected. She thanks: "Wendell Vaughn -- I asked for some backups and got four-part harmonies. Michelle Sergeeff -- I asked for some movement and I got every last measure choreographed. My Mom -- I asked her to help us with parts on the piano and I got a music director. Al -- I asked for some sets and I got a rear production backdrop, full video and a million other things." And the list goes on.
The result is a hilarious, whimsical little production that mightn't seem out of place in a nineteenth-century dance hall -- although, as Von Vett told me, little is known about what actually went on in those dance halls; it wasn't the kind of thing gentlemen were chronicling in their diaries at the time. She asked notable Colorado historian Tom Noel about such productions, and "there really isn't a lot to know about that time period of entertainment, except to know that as naughty as you think it was, it was probably worse. But, in the interest of making it palatable, I'm keeping it on the decent side of indecent."
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Von Vett acheived her goal; Leadville or Bust is best described as a series of vignettes in song. There is no plot, and there are no men in the production; Von Vett plays a brassy Madam with her ladies, Citrine (Elizabeth Welch), Amethyst (Michelle Sergeeff) and Sapphire (Melinda Smart). They sing funny little ditties that are often stories in themselves, acting out the lyrics in a naughty, bawdy manner. By the time they were into the first act, the audience was clapping and laughing and hooting and hollering at the girls as they flirted around the stage, flipping up their skirts to reveal petticoats and satin bloomers. The set was minimal but genius -- a screen hung behind the women displayed old photographs of Denver, ladies of the night and several hysterical short videos circa 1904. Several of the songs included mentions of Denver and the nineteenth-century Rocky Mountain atmosphere.
It was a fantastic production, hand-crafted with love and energy, transporting the audience into times past when songwriters had to use craft and wit to indicate sex instead of coming right out and saying it. I'd much rather hear Madam Reyna and her Hell's Belles harmonize about Sam the hot-dog man and how no one can get enough of Sam's hot dog, as opposed to Saving Abel's beyond-obvious lyrics in that terrible "Addicted" song. Or watch Reyna get all hot and bothered as she brazenly sings about her "Handy Man," the one who creams her wheat and wakes up early in the morning just to trim the edges on her hedges. Yowza!
Don't miss Leadville or Bust; it's a perfect evening of just-naughty-enough entertainment by a group of very talented women. Tickets are available at the Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington Street, for $19 and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 303-832-0929 or visit www.denvercrossroads.com or www.leadvilleorbust.com. -- Amber Taufen