BWW Review: THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM Returns With A Rollicking And Sexy Revival
With a fun and frisky book by Alfred Uhry and a vibrant and twangy score, laced with lively humor and moments of haunting sensuality, composed by Robert Waldman to Uhry's lyrics, The Robber Bridegroom first arrived on Broadway in 1975 as part of a limited repertory run showcasing members of The Acting Company, made up of John Houseman's prized Julliard drama graduates.
Kevin Kline starred in the title role and leading lady Patti LuPone nabbed her first Tony Award nomination. After a national tour, the musical returned to Broadway with a new company, less than a year after hitting the road. Leading man Barry Bostwick, after receiving Tony nominations for the original production of GREASE and a revival of THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED, was presented with the Best Actor Tony.
Though the return engagement was a disappointing four-month run, the cast album recorded by that company has helped make the show a popular choice among colleges and regional companies, and with director Alex Timbers' rollicking and sexy new Off-Broadway production, this underappreciated gem should prove popular with audiences looking for a swell time.
The story comes from Mississippi scribe Eudora Welty's southern folk tale, which resets a Brothers Grimm story to the late 18th Century, along the Natchez Trace, a southern trade route that was often teeming with thieves.
An ensemble of present-day players and musicians gather to tell the story of their Mississippi ancestors along the Trace, using broad-stroke comedy, inventively basic stage craft and the occasional accents of slapstick.
Silky-voiced and charismatic Steven Pasquale stars as Jamie Lockhart, a bandit who prefers to "steal with style," befriending his victims and then letting the dirty work be done by his alias, an unnamed robber whose face is shadowed by stains of wild blackberries. (Just a couple of stokes are used to get the point across, so as not to be taken as blackface.)
When Jamie meets up with wealthy planter Clement Musgrove (jovial Lance Roberts), on his way home with a sack full of earnings from the sale of his tobacco crop, it would be easy for him to just snatch the treasure away. Instead, sensing the potential for a substantial payday, he recues the gent from the thieving ways of dunderheaded robber Little Harp (Andrew Durland) and his brother, a disembodied head known as Big Harp (Evan Harrington).
The grateful Musgrove invites his new friend to Sunday dinner at his mansion, anxious to match him up with his daughter, Rosamund (sweet-singing Ahna O'Reilly). But before that happens, the free-spirited and sexually curious Rosamund has begun having erotic encounters with the disguised Jamie. Not interested in meeting the gentleman Jamie that her father describes, she alters her appearance to an unattractive mess, and the two meet on Sunday not realizing they already intimately know each other.
The gifted musical comedy clown Leslie Kritzer puts on a Norma Desmond-like façade as Rosamund's jealous and lustful stepmom, Salome, singing with soaring pipes and nailing every laugh with the kind of physical zaniness reminiscent of old-school giants like Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball. The storytelling style allows her to occasionally make very funny silent asides to the audience, commenting on the action, and Timbers allows her a moment at the end of one song that, while admittedly a bit cheap, nevertheless induced loud and extended laughter last night that momentarily put a halt to the proceedings.
Greg Hildreth puts in a loveable supporting turn as a dimwitted fellow named Goat, who dutifully tries to follow his mother's orders to kill Rosamund for Salome's reward of a suckling pig.
Conductor Cody Owen Stine's terrific five-piece onstage band and choreographer Connor Gallagher's square dance-inspired moves add to infectious fun. The Robber Bridegroom will steal your heart, and definitely do it with style.