When I attended the Broadway iteration of The Robber Bridegroom as a college student, it was in previews, it was a bigger, somewhat more sprawling show, leading man Barry Bostwick was out that night, and his standby George Deloy (aka George DelHoya), a future TV and voiceover mainstay, was on in his place. I remember him as being perfectly okay, but something about the show wasn’t adding up for either me or my companion, and we left at the intermission that the show had then. In the intervening years I periodically regretted that decision, thinking that perhaps we hadn’t given it a proper chance; perhaps I’d’ve felt differently if I’d seen Bostwick (whom I’d thought terrific in performances since), because everybody had been raving about him. And despite only running 154 regular performances, The Robber Bridegroom had developed a cult popularity. People who were there at the beginning, or who had discovered the cast album since, were quite fond of it.
So I was very much looking forward to the Roundabout revival at the Laura Pels theatre—which I attended, and I did stay for the duration (it has no intermission this time, but that’s just incidental), not just because it's my job (well, in most cases)—and you know what?
Well, I’ll put it this way: It’s a cult show for a reason. You give over to it or you don’t. I’ll get back to that.
There’s certainly plenty of reason in favor of giving over to it. Along with librettist-lyricist Alfred Uhry and composer Robert Waldman, director Alex Timbers has streamlined the material into a sleek 90 minutes of countrified storytelling, using what I call the “available props” technique, a kissin’ cousin to black box, in which your design (Donyale Werle) gives you ambiance and ambient stuff to grab, to create the appearance of other stuff, which is often done in league with the costume design (Emily Rebholz).
for not giving over? An unwillingness to be forgiving of the
Uhry's libretto (and possibly the Eudora Welty story, which I’ve not
it's based on) posits a title character (Steven Pasquale) whose talent is to "steal with style"
— mostly by dint of having a secret thief identity; when he wears grape
stain, he's like Batman; no one sees Bruce Wayne — but once that's
established, he doesn't actually do anything. The story quickly becomes
about a rivalry for
his affections between the ingénue (Ahna O’Reilly) and her stepmother (introduced,
perhaps, as a witch) (Leslie Kritzer) and the title character is very quickly
rendered a passive recipient.
And as an observer, I'm rendered — well, not as impatient as I was the
first time; if there were a mish, as I say, I would not have left, even
if I didn't have
to review it — but I found myself no longer mourning the missed
opportunity of the past. The open question had been well answered.
However, that's just me. To repeat, not everybody asks so much of this
odd cornpone of a show.
cast is delightful (Ms. Kritzer in particular), though, and whether you
they’re stealing your hearts or just your time will depend on your
sensibility—but whatever they steal it’ll be done, as advertised, with
style; that much, at least, is for certain.
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