There was plenty of laughter when The Great American Playhouse opened its premiere production, “Pistol Pete,” last weekend.
There were also boos, hisses, cheers and even a few tears in the converted grocery store with a raised stage and modified stadium seating, offering a good view of the play from all the seats.
Nick Seivert wrote and directed the play about a super-cowboy who can trounce the bad guy, win the girl and lasso cattle — all at the same time, if necessary.
It was packed with the requisite corn, laced with singing by some astounding voices, and it spilled over with silliness. Lines such as “prettier than hot butter on flap jacks” and “I’m on it like a chicken on a June bug” were so out there that they became immediately endearing.
Seivert also performed, giving Cookie, the good-guy sidekick and camp cook, an energy and spontaneity that melodrama demands (when a waiter dropped some dishes, he quickly called out “clean up on aisle three”).
Stewart Gregory has performed around the world, and his easy way in the over-the-top role of Pistol Pete gave the production a cheery oomph.
There were a few glitches — it would be shocking if there weren’t in such a young theater company. But the great enthusiasm, talent and dedication of the cast made forgiveness very easy.
This was an ensemble effort, but there were a few standouts. Sean MacArthur‘s bad guy Bullfrog Doyle, who is trying to buy the whole town because the railroad’s coming through, was excessively slimy and his voice excessively sublime. Jacinda Rose Swinehart was in gorgeous voice and evil mindset as the greedy dance hall girl Gypsy Jeanne, and in a later scene, as the cozy mom to a ranch hand. Filling out the cast with talent and grace were James Gooden, April Lisette, Jodi Darling, Brian Paradis and Jesus Limon, each contributing humor and solid characters.
There was some wildly creative use of puppetry in the production, and costume designer Richard W. Tuckett should win some sort of award for his horse costumes (worn by actors who knew how to milk the horse roles).
The after-show olio offered up Broadway show tunes, such as “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from “Gypsy” and “Lullaby of Broadway.” And a few that started and stopped, such as “I’m Just A Girl What Can’t Say No.” Swinehart came out singing “I’m just a girl who can’t say Nnn...” Of course, she can’t say “no” and gives up after a few times. The audience howled as she left the stage.
Piano was the sole accompaniment, and Mike R. Padilla stroked the ivories and sang with an old time dance hall vibe, adding to the evening’s delight.
The tears came during the curtain call, when MacArthur, one of the founders of the company, thanked the family and investors who had packed into Saturday’s performance. He was overcome with emotion as he recounted the support they have gotten, and the deep commitment people have shown the company.
Great American Playhouse needs a few shows under its belt to be as smooth and flawless as it clearly has the potential to be. But in the meantime, the entertainment is solid, the talent extreme, and the laughter easy.