Review: The story gets held up in Georgia Ensemble’s bouncy “Pants Bandit”

“There’s only the mission, the moment, the money” for Marie Baker, a gun-toting robber/vixen who’s wreaking havoc in 1930s Miami. On the run from her abusive husband, Baker stumbles into Lawrence and Kat Walker’s popular bar. The hot spot soon becomes the meeting place for her gang of misfit robbers — Jaye, Cesario and Sam — who help her swindle the butcher, the baker, the cheesemaker, etc. Her signature move? She leaves her victims blushing, one open fly at a time. However, when the gang realizes that their loot is tied to a notorious gangster, they must decide if the means are worth it in the end.

The world premiere musical The Pretty Pants Bandit, onstage at George Ensemble Theater through April 17, is about a woman trying to make it a man’s world by any means necessary. Based on the true story of Rose Durante, a mobster’s wife turned outlaw, the musical follows Marie’s journey from wallflower to a literal wild rose. Georgia Ensemble has been developing this new musical for two years. It’s conceived by Chase Peacock and Jessica De Maria, who frequently performed in Atlanta before moving to New York to develop the piece.

Helmed by artistic director James Donadio, the show features a cast of belting singers whose voices soar through the theater. Unfortunately, the belting is also the problem with this production. The story gets lost in the music. This musical wants to be sung through, but the story calls for more character development so the audience can understand who Marie is and why these people have agreed to risk it all for her. All of the songs are sung at full voice with the band onstage and the ensemble often crowding the space, which creates a lot of confusion in the first act. Though, I’ll add, the entire ensemble is beautifully outfitted by Alan Yeong, who clearly had fun playing with the time period.

Anna Dvorak Gonzalez stars as gangster Marie Baker, who made men she stuck up strip to their skivvies at gunpoint in 1930s Miami.

Anna Dvorak plays Marie and she has a heck of a task since the character is onstage almost the entire time. Dvorak fits the description of the real-life Marie and has a big voice, but she never quite finds the character’s essence. During most of the first act, it feels as if she’s wearing the clothes and toting the guns, but is disconnected from Marie’s seductive mannerisms and the danger in which she is landing.

And, though her boy bandits (Jordan Patrick, Sebastian Trevino and Skyler Brown) keep the giggles coming as they barely make it out of one ridiculous stick-up after another, they also seem to be singing more than acting.

There are also a couple of parallel stories happening. One is the bubbling romance between Marie and Lawrence (in a great performance by Fenner Eaddy), though the chemistry between the actors isn’t there. However, what is clear is Kat’s (Latrice Pace) skepticism about the whole thing. Though Pace is not onstage much, she delivers the one-liners just right. I just hate that this gospel music legend — look up the Anointed Pace Sisters if you’re unfamiliar — only has one song in the show.

The other parallel story happening in the script involves Gloria Rowe (Megan Zhang), a tenacious journalist who’s following Marie’s escapades throughout the city and writing about them in soap opera fashion for the daily paper. Like Marie, Rowe is also trying to make a name for herself and get from behind the shadows of men. In her case, it’s the editors who aren’t so keen on the idea of ​​a woman journalist. Zhang’s performance in this role is a standout, from her lovely singing voice to her snappy, zippy way of moving as she chases this story. She really maximizes this role.

The ensemble performs. “For all of its plot holes, ‘Pretty Pants Bandit’ is wholly original and highly energetic,” ArtsATL critic Kelundra Smith writes.

For all of its plot holes, Pretty Pants Bandit is wholly original and highly energetic. I just wish the creative team had spent as much time on the book as they did the music. There’s so much potential, but the creators fell into the temptation to make every song a showstopper and so none of the songs are showstoppers. Though, the tracks “Story Worth Writing,” “Make It Beautiful,” “It’s Criminal” and those spine-tingling strings in “That Dive on 4th” certainly want to be.

That said, creating a new musical is a hefty undertaking, and I was impressed at how far along this piece is in its infancy. It’s proof that Atlanta continues to raise its profile in the national theater scene as a real contender for developing new work. This is an exciting venture, and I look forward to seeing this garment find its buttons.


Kelundra Smith, an ArtsATL Editor-at-Large, is a critic and arts journalist whose mission is to connect people to cultural experiences and each other. Her work appears in The New York Times, ESPN’s The Undefeated, American Theater and other. She is a member of the American Theater Critics Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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