BWW Review: Opera House Players' THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM at Broad Brook Opera House
THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM is not your typical musical, and is even unfamiliar to some who consider themselves musical theater fans. The show was adapted from a novella by Eudora Welty and tells a southern gothic fairy tale of small town in rural Mississippi crawling with larger than life characters, a complicated love triangle involving thieves with berry stains, and even a talking "cut off head in a trunk" (more about that later.) The show began back in the early 1970's has enjoyed a long life of regional productions (with a recent Off-Broadway revival produced last year.)
Jamie Lockhart (the Robber Bridegroom of the title, played by Michael Graham Morales) travels down the Natchez Trace, finds himself in Rodney, Mississippi and cooks up a scheme to win over the daughter of "rich and lucky" planter, Clement Musgrove (Tim Reilly). Lockhart lives a double life - in the day he is a handsome aristocrat who "steals with style" by finagling and wooing unsuspecting targets, and by night, he masks his face with wild berry juice and becomes the "bandit of the woods", robbing people in a more traditional fashion. Along the way he meets a cast of unlikely characters, including Little Harp (Rodney K), a fellow thief, his brother Big Harp (Mark Proulx), who had his head cut off for stealing and now resides inside a trunk, Goat (Julianne Thouin), a dim-witted boy with "a brain the size of a scuppernong seed", and Mr. Musgrove's family, including his greedy, ugly, and evil second wife Salome (Lindsay Botticello), and his virtuous and beautiful (though a bit mischievous) daughter, Rosamund (KK Walulak).
In terms of the performances, Mr. Morales is convincing as the aristocratic Jamie Lockhart, but less so as his bandit alter ego. He carries Jamie's songs well, though slightly more theatrical than the typical country-infused score might call for. Ms. Botticello's Salome is brash, bold and engaging and has a shining moment holding an extremely long note during the end of her song, "Pricklepear Bloom." As the Harp gang, Mr. K's Little Harp is fumbling and funny, and Mr. Proulx's Big Harp, though confined to a trunk, is equally hilarious. Ms. Thouin's Goat provides good comic relief, and Mr. Reilly's Clement Musgrove is convincingly (though with good humor) oblivious to what is happening around him. Ms. Walulak's Rosamund is the stand out performance for me, lending a beautiful voice to Rosamund's lilting melodies, including the my favorite, "Sleepy Man."
I do want to make a specific point to call out the ensemble (Aimee Meunier, Joshua Hamre, Joshua Prouser, Reva Kleppel (who also plays Goat's mother) and Tara Kennedy (who also plays Airie and, enjoyably, the Raven). Unlike many musicals, this group stays on stage the entire show, leads the transitions (through called square dances) and even acts as the furniture and other scenic objects (a favorite was the waterfall during "Deeper in the Woods.") Each member of the ensemble looked like they were having a great time, which is important for this show as it helps convey the storytelling aspect of the piece. Having, myself, performed in the ensemble of this show, I know how hard they work in THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, so hats off to this group.
I have written in past reviews about the quaint setting that the Broad Brook Opera House provides, but THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM was practically written to be performed in this space. It is even hard to tell where the theater ends and the set begins. The barn-like atmosphere, coupled with some key scenic choices made by Artistic Director and Set Designer Robert Lunde, make for the optimal experience for this show. Speaking of direction, Mr. Lunde's strong direction and use of the space shines through quite clearly. Steve Kaminski's musical direction of a very strong and lively band set the perfect musical mood, and Moonyean Field's costumes were great, in particular, Rosamund's "New Orleans" dress.
I "never would stand here and lie in your face", THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM is an extremely fun and entertaining evening of theatre. It is infectious and good-natured, with an accessible plot, toe-tapping music and a talented cast. But it is a show that is not produced often, so audiences should hurry up and take the journey down the Natchez Trace before it is too late.