“The Robber Bridegroom” Captivates
I waited nearly forty years to see a production of “The Robber Bridegroom”, and my goodness, it was worth the wait. Based on the 1942 novella by Eudora Welty, this wonderful musical is now playing off-Broadway at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, the perfect intimate setting.
Dial back the hands of time to when I was a wee young communications student at Fordham University in the Bronx hosting a radio show titled, “Showstoppers” on WFUV (at the time, a student run station, and now a Public Radio affiliate.) Back then, I received an original cast album of “The Robber Bridegroom” starring Barry Bostwick and played it endlessly. A bluegrass musical, set in the swampy Mississippi? Yeah, it works. The music is fabulous, the lyrics strong, and the story super fun,
with book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry (who went on to write “Driving Miss Daisy”) and music by Robert Waldman.
With that in mind, do what you can to get over to 46th Street, just east of 6th Avenue and see this musical which has not seen the light of day in four decades, something that is hard to believe.
In the genre of musicals using the convention of actors doing the storytelling playing multiple characters (like in “Godspell” and “Bat Boy”) and integrating totally inventive sets and props, “The Robber Bridegroom” engages from the moment the cast and musicians stream down the aisles to the stage.
The incredibly talented and sexy Stephen Pasquale takes the lead as the manly bad boy Jamie Lockhart who is out to steal people’s hearts (and their wallets) and get in on any good scheme when he sees one. As the press materials aptly explain it, Jamie is “a dangerous, handsome, backwoods rogue who’s a gentleman by day and bandit by night.” (By the way, I love that word, “bandit.” Just an aside. )
When he is busy being the bandit in the woods, Jamie seduces a pretty young girl there, who happens to be the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, Clement Musgrove, Jamie previously saved from thieves (only Jamie doesn’t know she is his daughter.) Clem’s lovely daughter Rosamund (played by the delicate Ahna O’Reilly) is looking for romance herself, and is taken by this mysterious stranger who she can not fully see in the dark. (All the makings of a bodice ripping romance novel.)
The character of Salome, wife to Clement (played by Lance Roberts) and mean step-mother to Rosamund is played hilariously by Leslie Kritzer.
Various other characters help move the story along with inventive direction by Alex Timbers, and choreography by Connor Gallagher. Great scenic design by Donyale Werle adds to the feel and atmosphere of this clever and fun musical.
I simply don’t know why this piece was never brought back to life on stage in New York. The music is excellent. Even though I haven’t played my LP (!) recording of “The Robber Bridegroom” in a long time, I knew every single song that was performed, even recognizing that a couple of notes were changed in one of my favorite show tunes, “Sleepy Man.” (Like I said, I played the album endlessly back then.)
Check out the recording on Amazon for a sampling.
After the 90 minute musical ended, and I bid my dear friend Wendy, who so generously treated me to the show a good night, I walked home in the blustery April chill, hearing the music in my head all the way home. When’s the last time you experienced that?