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Theater Review: The Robber Bridegroom Revival

Sara Itkis |
October 19, 2011 | 12:52 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


A gleeful musical about love, mischief and the need for excitement, “The Robber Bridegroom” was first staged in the '70s, starring Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone. Although the production was a great success, it is rarely revived nowadays — until now. The show has come back to California, and is now starting its three-week run at the Center Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. 

Directed and choreographed by Todd Nielsen, “The Robber Bridegroom” cheerfully tells the story of Jamie Lockhart (Chad Doreck) — gentleman by day, Bandit of the Woods by night — and Rosamund (Jamison Lingle) — restless daughter of the richest man in the village — and how they come to fall in love. The cast, dressed in the dirty aprons and torn overalls of a southern farm town, evidently cannot wait to get started. They mingle with the crowd before the show begins, conversing with the audience and exchanging small talk. As the musical starts with its first number, “Once Upon the Natchez Trace,” we get a pretty good idea of what we’re in for: a humorous, rollicking story that’s half fairy tale, half romcom. 

We are also (or at least I was) pleasantly surprised by the bluegrass score. It took some getting used to the combination of a musical ensemble and a yodeling, folk-style soundtrack, but after the first few convincing solos, I was won over. Doreck’s “With Style” and Lingle’s “Nothin’ Up” were wonderful introductions of their characters. The two have great chemistry — and might I mention that Chad Doreck is quite good-looking? The “orchestra,” consisting of four or five musicians, is placed on stage, half-hidden behind the set, enhancing the illusion that the entire ensemble is inviting the audience in to tell them a story, with musical numbers and all. 

This story, aside from the main romantic plot, contains countless comedic elements. Each character, including the main ones, is a caricature of southern hilarity, accent and all. From Rosamund’s horny evil step-mother, Salome (Sue Goodman), to the not-so-classy thief Little Harp (Michael Uribes), who carries his brother’s (Tyler Ledon) head with him in a suitcase, to Goat (Adam Wylie), the dim-witted servant boy: all succeed in drawing laughter and gaiety from the crowd. Admittedly, the continual comic approach of the cast begins to feel somewhat tiring as the show goes on, since it undermines the arc of the narrative and creates a more linear, monotonous tone — be it one of hilarity. 

The set resembles an abstract barn house that opens up into the audience, creating the illusion that the audience is in the barn and part of the story, along with the ensemble. Throughout the show, the cast uses the set in every way imaginable. The ledge running along the wall of the barn often contains at least one cast member, and there is even some Tarzan-like rope swinging accomplished. A few simple pieces of wood are alternately used as a door, table, bed and more.

However, what really makes the set wonderful is the ensemble itself. When a cast member is not occupied with singing or reciting lines at any given point, he or she acts as part of the set. In the most memorable instance, the ensemble mimicks the forest animals and foliage that surround Rosamund during her “Nothin’ Up” solo. The scene feels like a spoof of Disney’s Snow White, with its cute animals and lively trees. In fact, the Disney element is a theme throughout the entire musical, both in plot and in set. Evil stepmother who is jealous of the heroine ring any bells? At one point, all pretenses are abandoned, and Salome offers Rosamund a shiny red apple — directly referencing Snow White. 

The Disney charade doesn’t fool anyone, however, as the PG-13 content arouses giggles and gasps from the audience. Full of laughter and levity, “The Robber Bridegroom” doesn’t spark much deep emotional catharsis, but it will certainly give you a jolly ol’ time. 

Reach reporter Sara Itkis here

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