BWW Review: THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM at Susquehanna Stage Company
The Robber Bridegroom has origins in the middle ages, is set in the 1800's, and was originally produced in the 1970's. Unfortunately, some elements of the musical are quite out of place in the year 2018. Taking place in Rodney, Mississippi, the musical tells the story of wealthy Clement Musgrove (Kent Gable), his beautiful daughter, Rosamund (Jordyn McCrady) and her wicked step-mother, Salome (Meredith Stone).
While hiking in the woods, Rosamund is attacked and stripped naked by a mysterious stranger (Asher Johnson). Clement reaches out to his new friend, Jamie Lockhart to find the mysterious stranger and defend his daughter's honor. What none of the Musgroves are aware of is that Jamie Lockhart and the mysterious stranger are one and the same. Complications arise.
Set Designer, Tyler Hoffman has created an expansive and detailed set on two levels. Susquehanna Stage has definitely upped their game in regards to sets in their tenth year. The stage is very reminiscent of an old west saloon including wagon wheel chandeliers, swinging doors, and steer horns above the bar. It is a pleasure to view.
As usual, costume designer, Jacquee Johnson has an eye for detail. Every character is dressed uniquely and appropriately. Characters are instantly identifiable, whether it be sexy, silly, or serious, based on what they are wearing. Johnson has earned her reputation as one of Central Pennsylvania's premiere costumers.
McCrady, Stone, and Johnson all have their turn to shine through music and dance. Choreographer, Melissa Golding leans heavily and appropriately on square dancing as the movement of choice throughout. I found McCrady's voice to be especially soothing, and her version of the song "Nothin' Up" is a real ear worm.
However, despite all of these (and more) indicators of a top-notch show, I would be remiss if I did not address "the elephant in the room". The Robber Bridegroom is a misogynistic piece of theater. Women are portrayed as overly sexualized, mentally deficient, dependent upon men, or some combination of the three.
Even worse, the last song in the first act is called "Love Stolen", and in it, Jamie glamorizes rape. In disguise of the mysterious stranger, it is suggested that he sexually assaults an unconscious Rosamund. Sample lyrics include...
CAUSE I LIKE LOVE STOLEN FROM THE COOKIE JAR
I LIKE LOVE STOLEN ON THE SLY -- OH YEAH!
I JIST LOVE SNITCHIN' WHAT AIN'T MEANT FOR ME
OH THE MORE FORBID
THE SWEETER TASTES THE PIE
It must be noted that this song is not sung satirically or for belly laughs. It is not sung by a mustache-twirling villain. It is sung by the hero. After which, there are no negative consequences for these actions, in fact, just the opposite, Rosamund falls deeply in love with him.
As an audience member, this does not sit well with me at all. I was honestly tempted to boo this song. In a world of #metoo, pussy hats, and Bill Cosby-has this show worn out its welcome? Perhaps it could be salvaged through artistic license similar to how modern productions of Taming of the Shrew approach the character of Katherina. Another suggestion might be to acknowledge that this show was from a different era in program notes or pre-show announcements.
The Fulton Theater is currently presenting the controversial play Blackbird, and offers audience debriefing with sexual abuse counselors following every performance. I am not sure that Susquehanna need consider such an drastic response, yet many people feel that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
As it stands, I think it is the wrong show at the wrong time.
The Robber Bridegroom runs through April 22.
Ticket and more information can be found at the theater's website.