Once Upon The Natchez Trace: A Review of The Robber Bridegroom

By: Hannah Kraitberb Sheera Kraitberg  |  April 12, 2016
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The Robber Bridegroom

At the Laura Pels Theatre, an eclectic and unconventional production is being performed for the first time in New York City since the 1970s. This uproarious musical is The Robber Bridegroom, specifically chosen to be a part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season. First performed on Broadway in 1975, the musical was then given a United States touring production before returning to the Great White Way in 1976 for a four month run. The revival, which recently opened on March 13th, is playing Off-Broadway through May 29th. Based on the short story by Eudora Welty, the show is a wild combination of musical theatre, bluegrass and fairytales.

Set in 18th century Mississippi, the seemingly heroic Jamie Lockhart saves Clemment Musgrove, a planter, from being robbed. In return, Musgrove invites Lockhart to his house to meet his young, beautiful daughter Rosamund in hopes that he will want to marry her. However, Jamie Lockhart is actually two-faced; he’s also the infamous Bandit of the Woods. The Bandit meets Rosamund in the woods and steals her dress, but doesn’t recognize her when he dines at her family’s home. Rosamund, almost unbelievably so, also doesn’t recognize Jamie, for when he was the Bandit, there were berry stains on his face. This somewhat outdated plotline provides a whirlwind of mistaken identity, love, secrets and deception.

Comprised of a group of very talented and dedicated actors, the cast never once loses their energy throughout the 90 minute (without intermission) show. Broadway star Steven Pasquale plays the lead character, Jamie Lockhart, with charisma and grace. His velvety voice lends itself beautifully to the bluegrass-style music, and he also expertly showcases his comedic chops which may surprise some that are only familiar with his musical work in 2014’s The Bridges of Madison County. His subtle yet captivating acting choices genuinely draw the audience members to the story and make them fall for his character’s charm.

Ahna O’Reilly plays Rosamund, and brings a sweet and spunky side to her character. She portrays her as innocent and lovely while also maintaining her double life with the Bandit of the Woods. When *spoiler alert* Jamie comes over for dinner and she wants to seem unlikeable as she is only interested in the Bandit, O’Reilly pulls out all the stops and sends the audience into hysterics.

A definite highlight of this revival is Leslie Kritzer’s portrayal of Salome, Rosamund’s stepmother. Witchy, cunning, manipulative, and hilarious, Kritzer injects an unbelievable amount of personality into the role, from the delivery of her one-liners to her priceless facial expressions and her many laugh out loud improvisations. As the cause of some of the most entertaining scenes, she proves that she is one of the top comedic performers in the Broadway industry.

Each cast member plays another important role in the show; they are a part of the scenery, harmonizing, and helping to move props and set pieces. Director Alex Timbers’ staging of the show is unique in that even the lead actors are often in the background during ensemble scenes, and wholly involved in each moment without being center stage. The band members stand in the back of the stage, and just like the cast, they are fully integrated into the scenery. The band and cast members also often break the fourth wall by acknowledging the audience or purposefully speaking directly to the theatregoers in a way that cleverly sets The Robber Bridegroom apart from other musicals and showcases Timbers’ expertise.

Timbers uses his trademark technique for directing The Robber Bridegroom: a minimal set and few props to create the innovative vision that causes the audience’s imagination to soar. With the cast’s seamless choreography, a simple plank of wood transforms into a bed, table, door and countless other objects. In a forest scene, a waterfall is created from a blue sheet, yet the audience sees the water and hears the gurgling. When trees are needed, various cast members hold up branches and leaves. Timbers’ resourceful method of incorporating the cast into as much of the show as possible is very reminiscent of his praised staging of 2012’s Peter and the Starcatcher. This production has Alex Timbers written all over it.

The Robber Bridegroom is a spirited and high-energy musical, with plenty of shenanigans and a strong, hard-working cast. The show is chock-full of wacky characters with huge personalities, with a style of music that’s different from the “typical” musical theatre sound. Despite a rushed ending, the story concludes on a celebratory note, merging the joyous themes and hilarity found throughout the plot. If you’re looking for a rambunctious and boisterous musical, with extremely talented performers, this show is for you.

The Robber Bridegroom is currently playing at The Laura Pels Theatre at 111 West 46th Street.For tickets call 212-719-1300 or buy online at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/tickets/reserve.aspx?pid=20263. General rush tickets are sold on the day of the performance at the box office, and Student Rush tickets are available half an hour before the show begins at the box office.

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