Review: Mistaken Identity in “The Robber Bridegroom” at the Laura Pels Theatre

Review: “The Robber Bridegroom” at the Laura Pels Theatre (Through Sunday May 29, 2016)
Book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry
Music by Robert Waldman
Directed by Alex Timbers
Reviewed by Michele Willens
For Theatre Reviews Limited

I am going to tread gently here, but there are shows that appeal to sophisticated, seasoned theatregoers, and those that would be more embraced by the tourist crowd, perfectly happy to be entertained no matter how silly the antics. Which brings us to “The Robber Bridegroom,” produced by the Roundabout Company, and performing at the Laura Pels Theatre. This is a revival of a 1975 show, with book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry, music by Robert Waldman, based on a novella by Eudora Welty. The new names attached are current critical darlings: director Alex Timbers, the force behind “Peter and The Starcatcher,” “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Here Lies Love;” and the ubiquitous Steven Pasquale, who starred opposite Kelli O’hara in “The Bridges of Madison County” on Broadway and has played roles in just about every TV show I have binged on recently, including “Bloodlines,” “The Good Wife,” “Billions” and the O.J. Simpson saga now on FX.

Pasquale, playing a role in once embodied by Kevin Kline and Barry Bostwick, does seem to be having fun as Jamie Lockhart, an 18th century Robin Hood style bandit who helps those in need and then steals men’s money and women’s virtue when it suits him. The slim story matches Lockhart’s dual sides with those of a rich man’s daughter, Rosamund, played spunkily by Ahna O’Reilly. It’s mistaken identity to the max and to the unsurprising finale.

There are shenanigans along the way, including a character whose body was separated from his head, and the wealthy landowner’s master plan to see his daughter wed. The musical performers rarely leave the stage, take turn playing instruments (fiddles, guitars, mandolins) and tell their tall tales through humorous solos. The audience I saw it with largely ate it up, laughing uproariously at sight gags and over-the- top supporting performances. Foremost among those is Leslie Kritzer’s wildly overdrawn stepmother character. She had me frowning at hello.

If you are into bluegrass, the music is pleasant and Uhry’s lyrics often very funny –unlike spoken lines like “I’ll change the shape of your head with a skillet” and “they say she could change the temperature of the moon.” The set is pure Alex Timbers: filled with props and stuff that the actors pick up and carry around. At one point, handheld tree branches are employed to cover a supposedly unclothed Rosamund.

I truly believe you can be shticky and yet smart and witty all at the same time. “Something Rotten” is a good example. I confess I did not find that magical combination with “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and I don’t find it with “The Robber Bridegroom.” But hey, I am all for people going to live theatre when they visit New York, and if they don’t demand much more than 90 minutes of pure escapism, more power to them.