Vicki Paris Goodman
Based on Eudora Welty’s novella, The Robber Bridegroom weds a very tall tale of double mistaken identity to Hee Haw. The only thing missing is the donkey. The high-energy musical features book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry and music by Robert Waldman.
Bawdy and vaguely allegorical, this distinctly adult fairy tale introduces a number of tawdry characters– some recognizable stereotypes, others not so much. But even some of the villains among them manage to inspire sympathy, which is not an easy feat.
Actress Jamison Lingle exudes stunning charm as Rosamund, a hillbilly Cinderella who falls for the “gentleman robber” Jamie Lockhart (Chad Doreck). Lockhart, in spite of singing of his propensity to pilfer with panache, wouldn’t strike anyone as much of a gentleman. Rather, he is a late-18th Century example of chauvinism, rendering Rosamund’s affection for him comical, given the play’s less-than-serious nature.
That is, no one would assess Lockhart a gentleman except Rosamund’s wealthy father, Clemment Musgrove (Michael Stone Forrest), a jovial plantation owner to whom Lockhart cunningly returns a stolen bag of money. Then, certain that Lockhart is an honest man, Musgrove picks him for his potential son-in-law and invites him for dinner to meet the beautiful Rosamund (not knowing, obviously, that the two are already an item).
Doreck’s solo rendition of “Steal with Style,” clearly intended to bring down the house, falls short. Fortunately, this is the only number that disappoints.
Lingle plays Rosamund to perfection and delivers two amazing solo performances, first in the quintessential tribute to boredom, the twangy “Ain’t Nothin’ Up,” and later on in the loving and sensitive “Sleepy Man.”
No Cinderella story would be complete without a nasty, vindictive stepmother. Sue Goodman resolutely fills the bill with her character’s sex-starved marital status, pitiable jealousy of Rosamund, and strident, cackling vocals. Her expressive performance of “Prickle Pear and Lily Bud” is a highlight of the show.
Also outstanding is Adam Wylie’s portrayal of the simpleton Goat. His dim-witted facial expression and exceptional physicality make his character the classic hayseed and a huge asset to the production.
Since Rosamund doesn’t at first realize that her beloved robber is the man that her father invites to dinner, she feigns a fuddy-duddy demeanor to forestall the visitor’s affections. Consequently, Lockhart doesn’t recognize her, either. Hence the twofold case of identity confusion.
Tatiana Mac does a wonderful job with the roles of Goat’s sister Airie and a talking raven. As Goat and Airie’s mother, Teya Patt ably contributes to several numbers featuring either the women only or the full cast.
Todd Nielsen’s inventive direction and choreography attend to every nuanced detail of posture and movement, every uttered syllable of exaggerated Mississippi drawl, and every opportunity to make the audience laugh or smile. A prime example of Nielsen’s creative choreography is a number called “Two Heads,” in which Little Harp (Michael Uribes) and his decapitated brother Big Harp (Tyler Ledon)– now merely a bloodied head kept in a box (remember, it’s a fairy tale)– sing and “dance” in hilarious homage to the superior outcome attained when the two of them collaborate.
Live musicians furnish the excellent bluegrass instrumental accompaniment.
This show is a heck of a lot of fun. With The Robber Bridegroom, ICT has taken a good musical up at least a notch or two to create a fabulous production.
The Robber Bridegroom continues at International City Theatre through Nov. 6. Tickets are $44 for Friday and Saturday evening performances and for Sunday matinees; tickets are $37 for Thursday evening performances. Evening performances are at 8pm; Sunday matinees are at 2pm. ICT is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 East Ocean Blvd. Call (562) 436-4610 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at ictlongbeach.org.