Story: Jamie Lockhart fancies himself a “gentleman robber” who specializes in high-class larceny on the Natchez Trace in the year 1795. He doesn’t steal like any low-down thief, he says. Rather, he prefers to finesse his victims, which leads to a popularity among the common folks akin to what Robin Hood once enjoyed in Merry Olde England.
When wealthy plantation owner Clemment Musgrove strolls in to Rodney, Mississippi with a big ol’ bag o’ gold in his possession, he appears to be ripe for a robbin’, and the Harp brothers are only too eager to oblige. That would be dimwitted Little Harp and his brighter but body-less older brother, Big Harp, whose disembodied head is confined to the inside of a suitcase.
Little Harp’s scheme to kill Musgrove and steal his money in a local hotel goes awry when Jamie catches wind of it, and substitutes some straw for Musgrove’s sleeping body. Lockhart convinces Little Harp that, while he’s killed ‘Musgrove,’ he must now contend with the vengeful ghost of the old man as well as the spirit of Lockhart, too.
Musgrove is so beholden to Jamie for saving him that he invites Lockhart to his mansion to meet his beautiful and eligible, if not overly bright, daughter Rosamund. She’s a dead ringer for her late mother, in stark contrast to Musgrove’s second and quite ugly wife, Salome.
Now, Salome may not be much in the looks department but she’s plenty savvy. She hires the village idiot, Goat, to kill her stepdaughter, heir to Musgrove’s fortune, while she herself aims her sights on the handsome stranger come to visit her husband’s estate.
Unbeknownst to her, Lockhart has met Rosamund in the woods in his guise as the “gentleman robber,” with berry juice smeared on his face to conceal his true identity. Rosamund falls in love with the bandit and thus is unhappy with the prospect of marrying her father’s friend, Jamie Lockhart.
So, Salome wants Rosamund dead, Little Harp wants the gold, Rosamund wants to hook up with the gentleman robber and not marry Jamie, while Jamie looks at the marriage as a business deal which shouldn’t infringe on his love-making with that good-looking girl in the woods. No big deal, right?
Highlights: Stray Dog Theatre strikes gold on its own with its hilarious, high-kicking good time of a production of this infectious musical written by Driving Miss Daisy playwright Alfred Uhry.
Other Info: Based on Eudora Welty’s 1942 novella of the same title, The Robber Bridegroom features a book and lyrics by Uhry as well as music by Robert Waldman. It’s a festive, high-spirited good time of a show and director Justin Been starts this smart, stylish production off on the right note by having the affable Jamie introduce members of the “town,” who actually comprise the enjoyable band.
Music director Jennifer Buchheit leads the inspired combo from its perch at the rear of stage right from her piano. She’s joined by fiddler Steven Frisbee, Mallory Golden on fiddle and mandolin, Michaela Kuba playing banjo, cello and guitar, guitarist Marty Lastovica and M. Joshua Ryan on acoustic bass and bass ukelele. Not only do they play the bluegrass-tinged score in a high-stepping tempo but they’re decked out sharply in Gary Bell’s sumptuous costumes and even sing a bit, too.
Been designed the appealing set, which features barrels and crates and wooden floors and a background that looks a bit like a circus tent. Those floors serve well for the hoedowns and foot-stomping square dances included in Mike Hodges’ lively and irrepressible choreography, with everything illuminated appealingly under Tyler Duenow’s smart lighting design.
Been keeps this humorous, broad comedy moving along at a brisk pace, aided by several engaging performances. Phil Leveling makes for a dashing and debonair Jamie Lockhart, bringing just enough swagger to his role to make Jamie likable rather than insufferable. He gets everything off to a rousing start leading the ensemble on the comedic opening number, Once Upon the Natchez Trace.
Dawn Schmid is appealing and accomplished as the determined daughter Rosamund, especially engaging as she humorously expounds about Nothin’ Up in her dull, dull life. Jeffrey Wright displays his fine comic chops as the amiable and overly trusting Clemment Musgrove, while Sarah Gene Dowling deliciously chews up the scenery as the stereotypical evil stepmother, Salome, albeit a lusty and salacious version.
Logan Willmore is up to the task of the thick-headed Little Harp and Kevin O’Brien does well with his share of the laughs as the torso-deprived Big Harp. Bryce Miller is entertaining as the simpleton Goat, always two bricks shy of a load, while Christen Ringhausen nicely etches the role of his sister Airie. As Raven, Susie Larwrence amusingly struts and frets across the stage until she meets an unfortunate end.
The talented ensemble is comprised of Chris Ceradsky, Shannon Lampkin, Rachel Sexson and aforementioned members of the troupe, making for fun interpretations of a variety of characters ranging from Goat’s mother to townsfolk to people in portraits put together in Been’s clever design.
If you like bluegrass music or homespun comedy or just a general fun night on the town, stop by and visit with the genial denizens who support The Robber Bridegroom. You’ll be glad you did.
Musical: The Robber Bridegroom
Group: Stray Dog Theatre
Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue
Dates: August 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18
Tickets: $25-$30; contact 865-1995 or StrayDogTheatre.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb