REVIEW: ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ an Ideal Summer Escape

Actors Kelly Ann Dunn and Derek Martin, founder of Americana Theatre Company, perform in the summer production of “The Robber Bridegroom.” courtesy image.

ON STAGES BLOG – You can meet some very interesting characters in the backwoods of the 18th century Mississippi territory. And while you’re there it’s also a good idea to keep a tight hold on your money

Along the way, you can also catch some pretty darn good bluegrass music, thanks to one of the very few Broadway musicals to boast a genuine bluegrass score.

Combine it all and you have “The Robber Bridegroom,” the Americana Theatre Company’s delightful summer romp now on stage at the Spire Center for the Performing Arts through July 24.

“The Robber Bridegroom” is a rousing, bawdy southern fairytale based on the novella by Eudora Welty with book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry, who wrote the play and screenplay for “Driving Miss Daisy,” and music by Robert Waldman. 

Several members of the cast are doing double duty, performing their roles and playing an instrument.

Americana has enlisted a number of guest artists to flesh out the lively band, which features music director Sarah Troxler on piano, Bob Sullivan on banjo, Jesse Winton and Derek G. Martin on guitars, Angelica Vendetti and Rachel Wambeke on the fiddle, Matthew Sung Girard on the upright bass/cello, and percussionist Spencer T. Gayden.

Just before the play begins, ancestors of those characters described in the musical gather in the town of Rodney in modern-day Mississippi, to recall stories of their predecessors. (“Once Upon a Natchez Trace”).

This particular story concerns a wealthy plantation owner named Clement Musgrove (Jesse Sullivan) who has a target on his back when he checks into the Golden Fleece Inn to get some rest.

Americana Theatre Company Founder Derek Martin performs the guitar while playing the role of “Jamie Lockhart”
in “The Robber Bridegroom.” courtesy image.

Waiting for him is the hilariously bumbling bad guy Little Harp (David Friday), a horny, dirty old man who does all the heavy lifting for his brother Big Harp (the aforementioned Gayden) because, well, after an unfortunate incident, Big Harp is simply a head that travels around in a trunk toted around by his brother, as aptly described in their musical number “Two Heads.”

They devise a plan to kill Musgrove in his sleep and steal his gold but the aforementioned Martin as Jamie Lockhart, a legendary figure of the time, rescues Musgrove by tricking Little Harp into thinking that Little Harp  killed them both, and their ghosts then attack him. The grateful Musgrove invites Jamie to his home for dinner and for the chance to meet and woo his greatest treasure, his daughter, Rosamund (Kelly Ann Dunn).

Martin as Jamie will explain to us why he did not steal Musgrove’s money right there, claiming that he steals with more finesse than that of a lowly crook, covering his face with berry juice and calling himself The Bandit of The Woods (“Steal With Style”).

There are other interesting souls wondering about in the backwoods. Director Michael Kirkland encourages his cast to go over the top when called for with hilarious results.

Erin Friday has many comic moments as Salome, Clement’s second wife, who feels neglected and bitterly resents her husband doting on his Rosamund, as Clement shows his true colors by giving his wife a feather duster and knitting needles and Rosamund a dress sewn with gold.     

Salome spends much of her time scheming to get rid of her step-daughter and enlists the aid of Jesse Winton is the dim-witted Goat, whose attractive low price for ridding Salome of Rosamund —  a suckling pig – seems too good to pass up. But, alas, you almost always get what you pay for. Goat’s sister Airie (Payton Gobeille) will be part of one of Goat’s schemes.

There is also a talking bird called Raven (Emma Harlow).

It gets complicated when Rosamund will have nothing to do with the charming Lockhart in her father’s home, but out in the woods, she is consumed with the dashing Bandit of the Woods, who  is pretty much Lockhart with a cape and berry juice on his cheeks. There are multiple cases of mistaken identity.

Martin and Dunn are a well-matched pair, and the cast is all in on Uhry’s laugh-a-minute book based on Welty’s novella.

No heavy lifting here. “The Robber Bridegroom” is what ATC artistic director Jesse Sullivan describes as “a musical theatre comedy and an immersive bluegrass concert all in one!”

Perfect entertainment for that lazy summer afternoon or evening.

The  Americana Theatre Company production of  “The Robber Bridegroom,” based on the novella by Eudora Welty, with book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry, and music by Robert Waldman.  Direction by Michael Kirkland, with music direction by Sarah Troxler. Performed Thursdays through Sundays from July 7 through 24, at Spire Center for Performing Arts, 25 ½ Court Street, Plymouth. Ticket information: Tickets: $35 for adults, $30 for students and seniors. Go to americanatheatre.org/tickets, or call 508-591-0282.

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By Rich Fahey