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Bodie Brower
Cory Keate plays the role of Sheriff Jake Lawson in "Who Shot Juanito Bandito?"

WHO SHOT JUANITO BANDITO; Pickleville Playhouse, Garden City, Utah; shows and matinees through Sept. 10; tickets $17 adults, $12 children, dinner & show $30; www.picklevilleplayhouse.com or 435-946-2918; running time 2 hours, one intermission.

GARDEN CITY, Utah — Usually it's the kiss of death to have the same person who writes a play star in that play.

But in the case of T.J. Davis and his Juanito Bandito series of melodramas featuring an unabashed, Spanglish-speaking, likeable crook, it's a winning combination — albeit a curious combination of puffed-up pompous robber and ultra-sensitive crybaby with a knack for wisecracks and hilarious one-liners.

Put on a poufy wig and a handlebar mustache and you have a bandito you can love despite the shortcomings and his habit of shooting people in the foot.

Davis is somehow able to keep the character funny and fresh as he robs banks and stays one step or two ahead of the law, including a pretty creepy, conceited U.S. marshal dedicated to bringing him in. He also tends to ad lib his way through a script that already has plenty of action and humor.

These Bandito shows (this is the fourth) deserve standing-room-only audiences and wider exposure than Pickleville Playhouse can offer. As it is, the shows are sellouts with good reason.

Davis is a very talented comedian and writer. The dialogue is snappy and clever, and the show moves. The Bandito is funny, charming and completely unpredictable when it comes to dealing with his fellow bandits (Maxine, played by Whitney Davis, and Steven, played by Derek Davis), women, the law and his fans.

The supporting cast members are as talented as the star as they sing, dance, shoot and work around the irrepressible Bandito, never knowing for sure what he will do or say next.

Take the opener, for instance. The Bandito wonders why the show's title has to be so mean and how anyone expects him to concentrate when it clearly predicts a sad conclusion for him.

He brags about robbing 30 banks in 90 days and defends his livelihood by talking about having mouths to feed — even if they are only poodles.

As soon as the marshal (played by Jordan Brown) and the London Times reporter arrive on the scene, the audience is already rooting for the Bandito.

There's suspense, comedy and surprise as the marshal starts trying to recruit a decent posse to bring in the Bandito.

Then there's the side story of the romance between the sheriff (played by Cory Keate) and the reporter: "Holy buckets, it's her!"

Along with the fun, the production numbers are lively and well-choreographed. The costuming is clever from the wigs to the boots.

There are a couple of pointed political jokes ("We killed him but he was buried at sea and we can't show you the photographs!").

There's a nice number of Provo/LDS culture jokes, especially as the reporter, Amelia Everlight (played by Rosa Gardner), talks about her dream to be the mom of seven children.

"Who Shot Juanito Bandito?" is classic escapism melodrama that might be more appropriately titled "Who Would Want to Shoot Juanito Bandito?"

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 30 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: [email protected]