The Robber Bridegroom
With its fairy-tale trappings and bluegrass score, The Robber Bridegroom is the chicken and waffles of musicals
Reviewed by Elissa Russell, Fri., April 24, 2015
Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward’s University, 3001 S. Congress, 512/448-8484
Through April 26
Running time: 2 hr., 10 min.
Given the huge success seen by musicals like Into the Woods and Wicked, audiences far and wide have a real affinity for reimaginings of beloved fairy tales. While not as widely known, The Robber Bridegroom, adapted from Eudora Welty's novella by book writer-lyricist Alfred Uhry and composer Robert Waldman, offers a similar kind of farcical fairy-tale romp, only tossed into a frying pan and doused in gravy. Like its more popular companions of the genre, The Robber Bridegroom provides audiences with that same stylized storybook humor, but it piles on extra fixin's with its bluegrass, do-si-do score. It's the chicken and waffles of musicals – an unexpected pairing that satisfies differing tastes, both salty and sweet.
One of the most striking aspects of this St. Edward's production is the live instrumentation, which works perfectly in the intimate Mary Moody Northen Theatre. A favorite feature of mine in this space is the overhangs that jut out above each of the four exits, and that's where director Danny Herman has smartly placed the bluegrass band. Banjos, guitars, and fiddles ring out from overhead, enveloping the audience in this musical's delightfully unique toe-tappin' score.
Of course, much of the evening's fun is thanks to the show's zany plot and larger-than-life characters. What would a fairy tale be if not for a damsel in distress, an evil witch, and a heroic prince? For the first, we have Rosamund, the wide-eyed but gutsy daughter of the richest planter around. Though her character is demure, student Emily Ott gives a performance that's quite mature – her succinct comic timing is backed up by her strong singing voice. Guest artist Brian Coughlin fills the boots of Rosamund's wealthy father and, as always, brings a great deal of charisma to his performance. Problem for Rosamund is, Daddy has recently gotten remarried to Salome, the very epitome of an evil stepmother. Salome's sole desire, like that of most evil stepmothers, is to get rid of Rosamund for good (eaten by panthers in the indigo field, ideally, but a runaway marriage will suffice). Guest artist Meredith McCall joins the lineup for this role and is far and away one of the highlights of the production. Combining the hilarious script with her own dry deliveries, this villain all but steals the show.
Matt Buzonas plays Jamie Lockhart, the tale's Prince Charming with a bad boy streak who, despite a case of mistaken identity, eventually absconds with sweet Rosamund's heart. Also a talented singer, Buzonas has a voice that complements Ott's quite well, making for some pleasant duets. Completing the experience is a talented chorus of familiar St. Ed's faces who keep the energy consistently high, use their space wisely, and remain engaged throughout the performance. Visually, Susan Branch Towne's costumes take the production to new heights; her creativity and fun with the project is evident in each piece. Adding some twang to "once upon a time," The Robber Bridegroom is a rollicking good time.