Once upon a time there lived in the land of Appalachia a wealthy plantation owner named Clemment Musgrove. He had a beautiful young daughter named Rosamund who longed to be in love. Clemment is married to Salome, a delightfully wicked, oversexed stepmother whose only desire is to see the lovely Rosamund’s life come to an early, painful end. Of course, there’s the love interest, the gentleman robber, who disguises himself as the very eligible bachelor, Jamie Lockhart.
These are the pivotal characters in International City Theatre’s rousing, foot stomping revival of the sweetly innocent “The Robber Bridegroom,” a rarely performed American musical, based on a novella by Eudora Welty with Book and Lyrics by Alfred Uhry. Originally performed on Broadway over 30 years ago to great critical acclaim, garnering multiple nominations, two young recent college graduates by the name of Patti LuPone and Kevin Kline played the lead roles. But now back to ICT’s production.
Meticulously directed and choreographed by Todd Nielsen, the fun festivities begin with the lively, spirited cast mingling with the audience chatting about this and that. The on-stage action begins with a high-energy square dance, one of the 12 dazzling dance and musical numbers in the show. Salome, played with just the right amount of comedic nastiness by a most talented legit belter Sue Goodman, flies into a quiet, plotting rage after her husband Clemment, played by Michael Stone Forrest, who sings and dances quite elegantly, brings her gifts of a feather duster, soup ladle, and sewing needles, but gives his beloved Rosamund a pretty frilly new frock.
Salome orders Rosamund, perfectly played by the marvelous Jamison Lingle, a fragile wisp of a girl with the looks and voice of a young Dolly Parton, to go into the dangerous forest to pick herbs hoping she will be killed along the way. The scene in the woods is particularly funny as other members of the cast become menacing animals and the scene is repeated several times as Rosamund retells about her encounter later in the story.
As any self-respecting fairy tale would have it, Rosamund is accosted by the gentleman robber played by Chad Doreck, a handsome young man with a big voice and commanding stage presence who convincingly carries off both characters (remember he’s also Jamie Lockhart.) Since Rosamund has nothing of value to steal, the robber demands that she give him her clothes that, without much reluctance, she agrees to and disrobes, one garment at a time remarking, “I never heard of a robber stealing underwear.” He replies, “There’s always a first time.” But wait! Cupid has shot an arrow that has pierced both their hearts and this unlikely pair becomes smitten with each other.
What fairy tale would be complete without more complications and these come in several forms. Clemment meets Jamie Lockhart and decides he’d be a perfect husband for his daughter who behaves like a raving idiot to discourage Jamie’s advances, who, by the way, as the robber, only longs for Rosamund. Complications and mistaken identities ensue and well, I can’t tell the ending.
In addition to the lead characters, Nielsen has assembled a bushel full of high-caliber, talented actors who sing and dance to perfection. Particularly outstanding is Adam Wylie, who, as the character of the dopey Goat, gives a lovable, hilariously funny, scene-stealing performance. Salome hires him to kill Rosamund, payment for which is a pig. However, things don’t exactly work out as planned.
Other excellent performances were given by Tyler Ledon as Big Harp, a talking head that his brother and his cohort in crime, Little Harp, played by Michael Uribes, carries around in a trunk. They do a cute musical number “Two Heads” in which the lyrics point out that “two heads are better than one.” The rest of the ensemble includes Tatiana Mac, as Airie, Goat’s sister and the overly screechy Raven, and Taya Patt as their mother.
Production values are top-notch with Stephen Gifford’s Set Design, Donna Ruzika’s Light Design, Paul Fabre’s Sound Design, and Kim DeShazo’s luscious period costumes, all working together to enhance and support the play. A musical would not be a musical without, well, music and the lively Robert Waldman’s original Blue Grass score was given a rousing rendition by the onstage band consisting of Gerald Sternbach Music Director and on keyboard, Fiddler Roman Selezinka, Gary Lee on guitar and banjo, and Brad Babinski on bass.
For anyone who loves traditional American Musical Theatre, ICT’s production of “The Robber Bridegroom” is an absolute must see, as it’s an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often.
International City Theatre
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 East Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90802
Run: Tuesdays-Sundays Through November 6
Photo Credit: Carlos Delgado