GARDEN CITY – I have a serious problem. Having now seen two Pickleville Playhouse productions of Juanito Bandito, I think I need a mustache. With how much I’m enjoying these productions, it’s possible that UTBA will be skeptical about me wanting to review the shows in following years because I’m becoming a huge fan. The other problem is my wife is not huge fan of facial hair in general.
Pickleville Playhouse is the place to catch summer plays in the Bear Lake area. Besides excellent productions like Forever Plaid, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and this year’s Beauty and the Beast, they also provide an annual production of “the most guapo villain in the West,” Juanito Bandito. His signature hair, stretchy pants and mustache become icons for families who get to see him year after year. In the great tradition of western melodramas, TJ Davis has written and reprised the role year after year to rave reviews, cheering crowds, and increasing numbers of Instagram selfies. Each year the show is updated, though the show maintains its nickelodeon piano player (Chelsea Shurilla), idealistic heroes, beautiful damsels, and ridiculous sidekicks. This year’s Who Shot Juanito Bandito? is the second iteration of this show, and judging by the cast album from 2011 that I promptly bought, it surprising how many of the jokes are still funny or even funnier today.
Judging from Pickleville’s website, Who Shot Juanito Bandito? was the last of four Bandito stories in the summer series. Consequentially, this story did not have to establish the gags that are now a part Juanito’s repertoire. There were fewer jokes in relation to mustaches or Juanito’s extreme confidence with the women; these became side gags rather than part of the main story line. This allows for a tight story that always has a little twist pending as Juanito prepares to rob his 31st bank in 90 days. Amelia Everlight from the London Times, U.S. Marshall Big Guns Bo Garrett, and local sheriff Jake Lawson all are in search for the bandito. The combination of their unique personalities makes for a hilarious story.
The jokes started right from the beginning as Juanito broke down the fourth wall and got a selfie with Chloe and had some kids in the front row steal a dollar from him. These people were then referred to for the rest of the night as recurring jokes to us and the other actors. While I’m sure some of it was planned out, I never quite knew what new jokes were scripted and which were improvised, as even the actors are often taken off guard and caught laughing at each other. Surprisingly, they do this while staying in character and just make the show roll like a train on the tracks.
Overall, the show had a great flare about it. Each character pulled his own weight and made it fun uniquely to their character. I especially liked Jordan Todd Brown as Big Guns Bo Garrett. His endless use of his tagline, “The bigger the gun the louder the shot,“ was hilarious as he figured out a new action or tone for every time he said it. His overconfidence was always present and his lack of tact cringe-worthy. In his proposal to British reporter heartthrob Amelia Everlight, he said without hesitation or sense of correctness, “I’m not accustomed to feigning respect or genuine concern, in order to get a women’s attention…So I’ll cut to the chase, would you give yourself the pleasure of marrying me?” Not too surprising, Big Guns doesn’t mind being called a chauvinist, but is hilariously hurt for being called short.
The love interest for this show did a good job of being both lovey-dovey and having a touch of mystery. I could never be sure if the Sheriff Jake Lawson (Tony Carter) was going to pop out with a gun to finally get Juanito Bandito or if the world class reporter from London Amelia Everlight (Whitney Hatch) would meet catch him with her little pistol. Likewise, the secrecy in their own relationship and especially Jake Lawson’s former life helped create a nice subplot . They were delightful in the slight awkwardness of telling each other’s dreams during “How It Ought to Be,” combining the love at first sight giddiness and concern about differing dreams in equal measure.
The Bandito’s henchmen were great at setting up the Bandito’s own jokes while being very funny themselves. Derek Davis as Steven was fantastic as the cockney who occasionally stands up to the boss, but usually gets a bullet in the foot for it. The stream of languages that flowed from his mouth each time was a great gag because, “there was a Groupon for Rosetta Stone.” His high-pitched, giggling other half of Maxine (Whitley O. Davis) was great especially when she her male disguise slip and had to make up with an excessive “har, har” laugh that made everyone on stage a little uncomfortable.
TJ Davis proved that rocking the right Hispanic accent and signature mustache hasn’t needed much modification over the last seven years. He still brought tons of confidence to the performance and threw down some dance steps with ease in his stretchy pants. He easily carries the show and modifies the jokes to suit a particular audience. The bandito continued to be the fastest gun in the west and proudly showed it.
TJ Davis also directed the show and keeps the blocking tight and the pace moving. This show only has a six full musical numbers, but they are each a highlight. The choreography by Sharli Davis King was diverse, with styles ranging from hip-hop to classical. The actors shone in their execution but kept their own characters very fluid to create some great stage pictures. Technically, the lighting (designed by Josh Roberts) captured all the excitement for the musical numbers, especially punching up the excitement in the hip-hop numbers like “Dirty Deal.”
My biggest disappointment in the show was in the sound mixing. I just had several times I could not understand what the actors were saying under the booming hip-hop beats. The songs had some pretty complex, fun rhymes in them, but often it was hard to because of my inability to hear them.
Juanito busts on the scene and anyone who “underestimate his awesomeness” will be sorely disappointed. So if you’re near Bear Lake, get a mustache, join the gang and see if you can figure out who shoots Juanito Bandito.