'Robber' hits too close to 'Hee Haw'

Theater

November 14, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"The Robber Bridegroom" is a musical whose supporting characters include a disembodied head, a boy named "Goat" and a singing raven (the only one of the three who's not a birdbrain).

In terms of sheer corn pone hokum, it would be hard to top this small-scale 1975 musical by playwright Alfred Uhry (best known for "Driving Miss Daisy") and composer Robert Waldman.

The book is based on a novella by Eudora Welty, but the Vagabond Players' production, under Terry J. Long's direction, feels closer to "Hee Haw" than to the work of that gentle Southern writer.

I have to acknowledge up front that I've never been comfortable with laugh-at-the-yokels humor, so Long's corny take on this country-flavored musical rarely tweaked my funny bone -- though many in Saturday night's audience seemed to be having a knee-slapping good time.

Since Long also staged this show in 1987 at the Spotlighters, it must be a favorite of his. And he does some clever things with it, chief among them having the chorus double as windows and doors, a feat accomplished simply by having an actor hold up the appropriate window or door frame, open or close it when needed, squeak accordingly, and, in the case of the doors, occasionally slap someone on the behind.

At other times, however, there's simply too much chorus activity on designer Gil Givens' attractive rustic set. The tale of the robber bridegroom is set in the late 18th century and is presumably being told to us by his descendants. But Long's direction and James Hunnicutt's choreography are often so busy that you lose track of this delightfully simple structure.

The story focuses on two-faced Jamie Lockhart. When he covers his face with berry juice, he's a bandit known, as he puts it in song, for his tendency to "Steal with Style." When he's clean-scrubbed, he's a gentleman who fools a wealthy planter into believing, in the planter's words, that Lockhart "don't have a dishonest bone in his body."

The planter's daughter, Rosamund, falls in love with the robber but won't have anything to do with the gentleman -- unaware that they are one and the same. (If it weren't for a couple of dead bodies and the robber's tendency to rough Rosamund up a bit, it'd be kind of a sweet story.)

Much of the music, appropriate to the Mississippi setting, has a country sound, which Randolph Hadaway, as Lockhart, delivers with twangy, vibrato-edged flair. As Rosamund, Michelle Tallant-Mange has a rather eccentric singing style, but her acting displays the broad humor the production accentuates, particularly in the lengths to which she goes to drive Lockhart away before she realizes he's the criminal she loves.

Dave Guy is properly well-meaning and gullible as the good-hearted planter, and Kathy Turyn Romaine is the epitome of the evil stepmother as his second wife (even her hair, which sticks straight up, Don King-style, looks evil).

One amusing touch surely absent from Long's 1987 production (not to mention its Broadway forebear) is the insertion of the Macarena into Hunnicutt's choreography for the number "Love Stolen," which also features Lockhart singing into his Bowie knife, as if it were a microphone.

Overall, however, this is a production that just tries too gosh-darned hard -- the cast members not only run down the aisles in their efforts to involve us in their high jinks, but at one point, they run through the audience as well. The result is a show with far more slapstick than wit.

'The Robber Bridegroom'

Where: Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 15

Tickets: $12 Call: (410) 563-9135

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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