A Rare Revival of 'The Robber Bridegroom' Is A Well-Crafted Pleasure
What do Driving Miss Daisy playwright Alfred Uhry and famed Southern short story writer Eudora Welty have in common? Uhry (with Robert Waldman) composed a musical from Welty’s “The Robber Bridegroom,” resulting in a 1975 show that formed the professional debuts of both Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone. For some unknown reason, it isn’t revived often, but as the delightful new production at International City Theatre in Long Beach demonstrates, it should be.
In 1795 Mississippi, Jamie Lockhart (Chad Doreck) is quite happy living a double life. During the daytime he’s seen as a respectable young man, but in the evenings he disguises himself and becomes the Bandit of the Woods. One day Jamie discovers that wealthy planter Clemment Musgrove (Michael Stone Forrest) is staying in town, and he quickly saves the naïve man from being killed by the less subtle crook Little Harp (Michael Uribes). A grateful Clemment invites Jamie to visit his home and meet his wife Salome (Sue Goodman) and his daughter Rosamund (Jamison Lingle). Before arriving at the Musgrave home, Jamie (as the Bandit) robs Rosamund of her expensive clothes without knowing who she is. When the two are introduced as Clemment’s home, they’re uninterested in each other, both more attracted to the mystery people they met in the woods.
Doreck gives an accomplished and charming performance as the arrogant Jamie, and while he’s a fine singer, it’s in the comedic scenes that he shines the most. Lingle is excellent as the headstrong heroine Rosamund, appealing in a comedic song such as “Ain’t Nothin’ Up” and bewitching the audience into reverent silence by the beauty of her voice in “Sleepy Man.” Goodman is robustly amusing as the villainous Salome, and she delivers the song “Prickle Pear and Lily Bud” with operatic verve.
Forrest is an amusing and reliable straight man as Clemment, blissfully unaware of various criminal plots, and Uribes is very funny as the dim Little Harp, his cheerful rendition of the murderous “Poor Tied Up Darlin’” a highlight. Adam Wylie brings expert craft to the halfwit Goat, but Tyler Ledon’s performance as the severed head Big Harp seems more tentative or low-key than it should be. Teya Patt brings a canny hilarity to her scenes as Goat’s Mother, and Tatiana Mac is subtle and terrific in multiple smaller roles, never out of character and always interesting.
Director Todd Nielsen effectively brings his creativity to bear on the show in various satisfying ways, from having the ensemble act as inanimate objects and providing appropriate sound effects to a surprisingly well done number where the majority of the cast realistically portray animals, finally making those acting class exercises pay off. His choreography is sprightly and uses the space well, with the exception of a second level of the stage that doesn’t get much play. Uhry’s book and lyrics and Waldman’s music hold up quite nicely, and are given a lively workout by Gerald Sternbach on piano, supported by three other fine musicians. Stephen Gifford’s bi-level set, using trees as pillars, works equally well as forest, house or barn, adding a certain woodsy coziness to the production.
“The Robber Bridegroom” is playing at International City Theatre through Nov. 6, 2011. Tickets are available online.