A new musical about the infamous female gangster, 'The Pretty Pants Bandit'

pretty pants bandit
The new musical "Pretty Pants Bandit" makes its world premiere at Georgia Ensemble Theatre on March 31. (Photo courtesy of Casey Gardner)

The saying goes, “Don’t get caught with your pants down,” but that’s exactly what Marie Baker, also known as “The Pretty Pants Bandit,” demanded of those she robbed at gunpoint. The tale of gangster Marie Baker is the basis of a new musical making its world premiere at Georgia Ensemble Theatre tomorrow, March 31, and running through April 17. Playwrights Chase Peacock and Jessica de Maria joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with director Jim Donadio to talk about the production and the untamable woman who inspired it.

Interview highlights:

Discovering the mysterious Marie Baker:

“I was playing a female gangster and did some research on some other female gangsters, and she popped up on a list of ’19 Lady Bandits You Don’t Know About.’ I was like, ‘Wow, this is hilarious and fascinating,’” said De Maria. “There’s not much beyond the headlines, and so for us, we kind of took the liberty of inventing a backstory for her.”

“What was already fantastic about her and unusual about her was that she was a female gangster, leading a gang of men that the newspapers referred to as her ‘Pants Gang,’ and that in and of itself demonstrated a level of strength and boldness that we found really interesting,” De Maria later added.

Developing the why and how of Baker’s eccentricity:

“There are plenty of reasons why you can theorize, she pantsed the men she robbed; they couldn’t chase after her to gain headlines or anything like that. But we looked a little bit deeper and said, ‘What kind of woman felt the need or the drive to humiliate men in this way?'” said, De Maria. “Drawing from personal and tangential experience, we invented a backstory for her as to why she was motivated to do this crazy thing. We decided that perhaps she was fleeing a bad marriage, considering when she was booked, we found out she was Mrs. Rose Durante, and we hadn’t heard of her husband until that moment.”

She continued, “We decided that perhaps she was leaving … a marriage where every little thing she did was controlled and arrested from her own control — what she thought, what she wore, what she said, what she did — and you know, one day she just walked out and she took that journey of rediscovering herself, a little bit of vengeance tossed in there. She kind of boldly and recklessly took it to the streets, humiliating as many men as she could while she was doing it.”

A stage production as colorful as its star character:

“My problem with the show is that I’m extremely fond of too many songs. So the joke even before rehearsal started was that a song would start to happen, and I would say, ‘That’s my favorite.’ And then we’d play another song and, you know, ‘That’s my favorite.’ And I’ve got it down to like seven favorites, I think,” said Donadio.

“[The set] is a multilevel that functions in any number of ways that I can change scenes and locations, not only with set changes but with lighting changes,” Donadio added. “When we talked about it originally, we wanted something that gave a little flavor of Miami in the ‘30s … When I’m directing, what I always ask my designer for is, ‘Please give me as many possibilities of working the set as possible.’ So we are up on platforms, we’re out in corners, we are coming underneath, we’re doing all kinds of things.”

“The Pretty Pants Bandit” debuts on March 31 and runs through April 17 at the Georgia Ensemble Theatre in Roswell. Tickets and more information are available at get.org/pretty-pants-bandit