When was the last time you saw a production of the Tony Award-winning, Drama Desk Award-nominated Broadway musical The Robber Bridegroom?

Ask most any Los Angeles theatergoer for their answer and the one you’ll probably get is “Never.” Despite a hilarious book and oh-so clever lyrics by Alfred (Driving Miss Daisy) Uhry and a showful of catchy bluegrass melodies by Robert Waldman, about the only professional L.A. production in the past decade would appear to have been Musical Theatre Guild’s one-night-only concert staged reading in 2001—all the more reason to celebrate its current revival at International City Theatre in Long Beach, though hardly the only one.

Based on a novella by Eudora Welty, Uhry and Waldman’s musical spins the very tall tale of a handsome young gentleman named Jamie Lockhart (Chad Doreck), who having rescued wealthy Mississippi plantation owner Clemment Musgrove (Michael Stone Forrest) from the dastardly Harp brothers, proceeds to court his lovely daughter Rosamund (Jamison Lingle) by day. By night, however, squeaky-clean Jamie becomes the darkly seductive “Robber Bridegroom,” a Don Juan more than capable of seducing the virginal Rosamund once the sun has gone down in the woods.

Uhry draws Jamie, Clemment, Rosamund, and a host of other characters with extremely broad strokes. In addition to the aforementioned trio, there’s Clemment’s second wife Salome (Sue Goodman), the “prickly pear” he married following the death of his “lily bud” of a first wife; Little Harp (Michael Uribes), the dirtiest, filthiest, stealingest varmint in the Natchez Trace, a fellow who travels with the talking head of his deceased elder brother Big Harp (Tyler Ledon) kept hidden inside a trunk; Goat (Adam Wylie), a boy so dumb, he’s reputed to have a brain the size of a scuppernong seed; and Goat’s mother (Teya Patt) and sister Airie (Tatiana Mac), only marginally less stupid than Goat.

With director/choreographer extraordinaire Todd Nielsen at the helm, it matters not a whit whether you follow the rather bizarre twists and turns of The Robber Bridegroom’s convoluted plot. Blending elements of The Three Stooges, Mark Twain, and Monty Python (and how’s that for a trio?), Nielsen’s Robber Bridegroom is endlessly and outlandishly inventive—and more fun than the proverbial barrel of monkeys.

Filled with slapstick sight-and-sound gags galore, more infectious square dances, reels, and jigs than in all the musicals you’ve seen put together, one hummable song after another, and performances that sell all of the above like nobody’s business, The Robber Bridegroom proves likely to entertain all but the most curmudgeonly of theatergoers.

A very young Barry Bostwick won the Tony Award for his performance as Jamie, and in boy-next-door handsome Doreck (who just happens to be performing the role in his home town), ICT couldn’t have come up with a more charismatic, appealing leading man.   Add to the above Doreck’s terrific pipes and acting chops to match and you’ve got a musical theater star we need to be seeing much more of on our stages.

Supporting Doreck are an octet of couldn’t-be-more-sensational triple threats, beginning with multiple Scenie Award-winning Forrest, who takes the villainous Clemment and fills him with so much lecherous joie de vivre that you can’t help liking him despite his evil ways. As Salome (rhymes with baloney), Goodman fills the shoes of battleaxes before her quite fabulously indeed, with the added plus of a Broadway belt to pierce the rafters. Los Angeles theater regular Uribe and L.A. newcomer Ledon give the silver screen’s classic comic duos a run for their money as the hilariously nefarious Harp brothers, their “Two Heads” a guaranteed showstopper. (It’s amazing how many ways Nielsen finds to use Ledon’s supposedly decapitated head.) UCLA musical theater grad Lingle makes an impressive ICT debut as Rosamund, a role that allows her to be both comedienne and leading lady, her gorgeous rendition of “Sleepy Head” an Act Two highlight. Fellow Bruin Mac nails two plum cameos, as the Horn brother’s advice-offering raven (think Big Bird, but black) and as airheaded Airie. The splendid Patt’s facial expressions as Goat and Airie’s mother are almost worth the price of admission. Finally, Broadway and L.A. theater vet Wylie continues to be one of the brightest young musical theater character actors around, making Goat’s brainlessness positively irresistible.

Musical director Gerald Sternbach leads the onstage band (Roman Selezinka on fiddle, Gary Lee on guitar and banjo, and Brad Babinski on bass), the addition of Sternbach’s piano to the original all-strings orchestrations lending a welcome hint of country pop to Uhry and Waldman’s bluegrass delights.

Designwise, The Robber Bridegroom couldn’t look or sound any better. Stephen Gifford’s all-wood, multilevel, multipurpose set design has just the right country-western feel to it with its crates, barrels, and bales of hay, and Donna Ruzika lights it all to perfection. Kim DeShazo’s costumes combine Old South authenticity with delicious flights of fancy. Paul Fabre’s sound design mixes voices and instruments expertly, and has cast members providing their own Foley effects (doors creaking, heads thunking, etc.) Kudos go too to resident property designers Patty and Gorgon Briles and to Anthony Gagliardi’s hair and wig design. The Robber Bridegroom is produced by caryn desai.  Pat Loeb is production stage manager. Michael Donovan, CSA, is casting director and Pater Matyas, CSA, is associate casting director.

Not having seen The Robber Bridegroom before or heard its songs for that matter, I didn’t know quite what to expect from this rare revival. Considering the all-around smash the ICT production turns out to be, I can’t help thinking that had Nielsen and company been the Broadway originals, the show might have run considerably longer than its 145 performances and 12 previews. If The Robber Bridegroom at ICT doesn’t get you a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ and a-cheerin’, I’ll be a-eatin’ my hat.

International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
October 15, 2011
Photos: Carlos Delgado

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