You need no special affection for country/rockabilly to be seduced by this rollicking shindig of a tall tale. It happens almost without one’s awareness. Director Alex Timbers’s inspired revival of the 1975 Mississippi whopper is so high spirited, so full of infectious numbers, inventive sight-gags, and artfully exaggerated performances, you’d have to have sold your sense of humor to the devil to remain untouched. “Once upon a time, there was a fairytale kingdom…” Yeehaw!
Upright citizen Jamie Lockhart, (heartthrob Steven Pasquale of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Bridges of Madison County) comes across Little Harp (Andrew Durand, a pitch perfect scalawag) robbing rich plantation owner Clement Musgrove (a genial Lance Roberts) under the watchful direction of his brother, Big Harp (Evan Harrington), whose live severed head he carts around in a trunk. Got all that? Two heads are better than one… When Jamie sends Little Harp packing, the victim tries to give him gold, but is refused despite Musgrove’s assurance there’s a lot more where that came from.
The gregarious Musgrove invites Jamie to meet his second wife Salome (Leslie Kritzer- imagine Carol Burnett on steroids playing a nymphomaniac, wicked stepmother) and beautiful, supposedly docile daughter Rosamund (Ahna O’Reilly with a pithier-than ingénue voice and spunky presence). Every boastful reference to wealth is greeted with more than usual interest. Jamie, it seems, his face masked in berry juice, moonlights as The Bandit of the Woods.
Salome hires the light-brained, bumbling Goat (a wonderfully sweet and funny Greg Hindreth) to kill her stepdaughter. “I will slap your butt into your shoulder blades if you come back without…” The Bandit encounters a restless, bored Rosamund in the forest and steals her clothes, sending her home naked, frustrated, untouched. She sneaks out that night to find her romantic outlaw. Comes a boy, he walks so steady/comes a girl, she seems so ready…When Jamie arrives for dinner, Rosamund makes herself awful in order to discourage him.
Steven Pasquale, Ahna O’Reilly
The Bandit plans to marry Musgrove’s ugly daughter and keep the woman who’s come to him-assuming she plays a bit hard to get and doesn’t do too much cleaning. Rosamund, rejecting her father’s upright choice, pines for a real relationship with the stranger, but who is he? Goat pursues his assignment in order to secure a promised suckling pig. Salome has the hots for Jamie, but the Bandit will do. Little Harp wants a woman and there seems to be one available for bartering. Musgrove will give anything and go anywhere to secure his daughter’s happiness.
Evan Harrington, Steven Pasquale, Leslie Kritzer, Lance Roberts, Nadia Quinn
Having watched Director Alex Timbers ply his imagination in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Peter and the Starcatcher, one expects the unconventional as well as the grounded. Salome likes to behead pigs and repeatedly falls on her face with a loud calump! When Rosamund and The Bandit go deep in the forest, “You comin’ with me? I don’t like to be followed,” they fluidly climb over, under, through, and between obstacles presented by the unobtrusive cast. Goat is not so successful, branches seem to come out to meet him. Pace is lively. Even filled with people, staging never appears sloppy.
Country western music is, for the most part, rowdy and fun; one ballad haunts. Musicians are very fine.
Steven Pasquale, Ahna O’Reilly
Pasquale is a born swashbuckler (by any name). His muscular form and resonant vocals embody the perfect hero. That the actor can also evoke humor – here from his character’s habits, chauvinism, and ego, makes him doubly entertaining.
Nadia Quinn who briefly plays Goat’s Mother deserves a call-out for her very cool personification of an ornery Raven.
The play is based on a 1942 Eudora Welty novella which transplanted a Brothers Grimm story to the Nachez Trace, (a forest trail from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee), embracing the bravado of American fables. Alfred Uhry’s book and lyrics manage to do this without fully eschewing romantic visions of good and evil. His knee-slapping directness would, however, appall fairies.
Choreographer Connor Gallagher presents dance that do-se-does with synchronized movement, utilizing the small stage with buoyancy and skill.
Above our heads, rough wood support beams, diagonal cabin walls, a taxidermy deer head and an enormous wild turkey hang beside mason jars holding candles. (Jake DeGroot Jeff Croiter, who later give us an unorthodox starry sky.) When the “curtain” parts, Donyale Werle’s inventive Set looks as if artist Joseph Cornell got drunk on moonshine and haphazardly decorated The Grand Ole Opry. Terrific.
Emily Rebholz’s Costumes mix western sagas with a bit of tease, and a smidgen of whimsy. Darron L. West/Charles Coes’ s Sound Design not only delivers the textured music of a five piece bluegrass band (and vocals), but engineers a terrific series of evocative sound effects.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Greg Hildreth, Steven Pasquale, Leslie Kritzer and the Company
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
The Robber Bridegroom
Book & Lyrics by Alfred Uhry
Music by Robert Waldman
Based on the novella by Eudora Welty
Directed by Alex Timbers
The Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th Street