I’m embarrassed to admit that in three decades of living in northern Utah, I had never visited the Pickleville Playhouse in Garden City prior to last month.
I have seen Pickleville shows previously, when one of their productions was imported into Cache Valley for a few performances. But that happens about once in a blue moon and it’s not the same as seeing the Pickleville folks performing their own material on their home turf. That’s a unique theatrical experience of which I’ve stupidly deprived myself over the years.
The multi-talented members of Davis family have been providing their own special brand of entertainment in northern Utah for more than 40 years. Working both on-stage and off-, three generations of the Davis clan have made the Pickleville Playhouse a musical comedy treasure on the shores of Bear Lake.
Like other local theater groups committed to performing family friendly productions, the Pickleville Playhouse has staged all the usual suspects in the genre – traditional shows like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Forever Plaid, Shrek the Musical and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, along with several of the Disney musicals that are seemingly inevitable nowadays. Those shows have earned a solid reputation as first-rate productions.
But the playhouse’s summer schedule has also traditionally included an original offering, usually a musical melodrama authored by TJ Davis. In recent years, some of those shows have centered on the continuing trials and tribulations of the legendary Juanita Bandito and they’ve become so popular that they are performed in special engagements as far south as Salt Lake City. It’s in these productions that the Pickleville folks really shine.
Sharing the Pickleville stage with The Little Mermaid this summer was Davis’ latest brainchild, Shootout at Shadow Mountain. It’s a campy little melodrama that doesn’t take itself too seriously while featuring witty songs, strong vocal performances, fine acting, spirited dancing and some of the finest improvisational comedy I’ve ever see.
It’s that rare element of improv that makes Shootout at Shadow Mountain a priceless theatrical experience.
To some extent, the Pickleville Playhouse resembles a Vaudeville troupe in that the Davis family has gathered a gifted group of repeat performers over the years. By this time, those actors and actresses are so accustomed to each other’s talents and capabilities that they naturally play along whenever one of their number unexpectedly begins to ad lib like mad.
In a normal production, when an actor discards the script, panic follows. But when a gifted maniac like Slater Ashenhurst suddenly decided that Shootout at Shadow Mountain really needed five minutes of never-before-seen stich, the rest of the Pickleville cast merely shrugged, smirked and subtly let the audience in on the joke. That freedom to improvise resulted in side-splitting hilarity for everyone on both sides of the footlights.
Ashenhurst was aided and abetted in that temporary theatrical insanity by the equally talented Jordan Todd Brown, a Cache Valley native now living in Los Angeles where he regularly performs improv. And it shows.
I can’t remember the last time that I laughed so hard that I cried in a theater. But the antics by Ashenhurst and Brown had the whole audience at the Pickleville Playhouse rolling in the aisles.
Members of the excellent supporting cast of Shootout at Shadow Mountain included Kenzie Davis, Joshua Goodrum-Green, Georgia Bowman, Vanessa Vause, Jaquel Spivey and the amazing Jeremy Andriano as the piano player.
The final performances of Shootout at Shadow Mountain are slated at the Pickleville Playhouse on Friday and Saturday of this weekend.