Lyricist: Alfred Uhry
Composer: Robert Waldman
Reviewer: Kelyn Luther
On paper, The Robber Bridegroom is an intriguing musical- based on a fairy tale and with a bluegrass-inspired music score that should have gelled perfectly. However, on listening to Roundabout Theatre Company’s recording, it’s a bit of a mess.
The Robber Bridegroom is based on Eudora Welty’s novella which sets the Brothers Grimm story of The Robber Bridegroom in 18th century Mississippi. Jamie Lockhart (Stephen Pasquale) is a Robin-Hood figure who masquerades as the Bandit of The Woods. Rosemund (Anna O’Reilly), the daughter of a wealthy planter, is intrigued by the Bandit after he orders her to remove her golden dress, which he steals, leaving her naked in the woods. Rosemund spurns Jamie’s advances, not realising that he and the Bandit are the same person.
The songs of The Robber Bridgegroom struggle to sell the story on offer – Alfred Uhry’s lyrics aren’t a problem; it’s Robert Waldman’s music. It switches between jaunty country music (Once Upon The Natchez Trace, Goodbye Salome) and haunting folk music that is in better keeping with a dark fairy tale (Deeper in The Woods, Rosemund’s Dream). Even after listening to it multiple times, it’s still unclear to what extent the musical is meant to feel comic.
Pasquale overdoes the country twang, which feels very mannered and typically Broadway. Certainly on this recording, he doesn’t convey either Jamie’s roguish charm or the seductive enigma of the Bandit. O’Reilly sings very prettily and gets the best number in the show- Sleepy Man, a gentle ballad which is a welcome break from frantic songs like Goodbye Salome.
Salome is the fairy tale staple- Rosemund’s jealous stepmother. Kritzler performs energetically and puts a lot of character into the role but it’s at the expense of the songs. The Pricklepear Bloom, the song which establishes Salome’s character, is unlistenable because of the screeching and a country twang that belongs in broad comedy rather than a musical.
It’s not simply this recording that is the problem. The original Broadway cast recording is easier on the ear but the problem is that the sensibility of the story- it’s more fun for a man if he can trick a woman into falling in love, whatever lengths the trick might go to- feels like an historic relic(the musical was written in 1975). Of course, there are many older musicals which feel uncomfortable to twenty-first-century audiences- notably Carousel– but this has neither the otherworldliness of a dark fairytale that contextualises the behaviour, nor the knowingness of parody that would make the story work.
You could forget the story and focus on the songs, except they aren’t memorable and don’t hold up as stand-alone songs. Unless you are already a convert, The Robber Bridegroom is a bit of Broadway history that you can quite easily skip over.
Album available from Ghostlight Records