(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Spera.)
Perhaps its origins in the 1970s explains some of the weirdness found in “The Robber Bridegroom,” playing through Sunday at St. Edward’s University.
Alfred Urhy’s musical (based on a 1942 novella by Eudora Welty) is a strange one, even stranger than most musicals inherently are. Characters spontaneously bursting into song and dance always requires a certain degree of willing suspension of disbelief, but this play demands an outright expulsion of disbelief, which is beyond the pale for anyone but the most devoted musical fans.
The characters are amusingly over the top, at least, and fall into an array of familiar types. There’s the swindler Jamie Lockhart (Matt Buzonas) who saves Clemment Musgrove (Brian Coughlin), a clueless merchant with a beautiful daughter (Emily Ott) and a gold-digging second wife (Meredith McCall). There’s also an adorable simpleton (Owen Ziegler) and a rival bandit (Trey Stoker) to make additional mischief.
The show is a bizarre hybrid between the story of Eros and Psyche, snow white (with a wicked stepmother, apple and all), and one of Shakespeare’s bed tricks. Except Shakespeare doesn’t generally expect us to believe the lovers could go to bed night after night without figuring things out.
In this farcical folk tell set on the frontier of Mississippi, the plot hinges on a series of misrecognitions that, frankly, make the characters seem outright idiotic. Their simple alterations in appearance (minor costume changes and different mannerisms) might be excusable, or at least get us to willingly play along, but when the star-crossed lovers have several conversations about their escapades, their failure to connect the obvious dots grows increasingly exasperating.
The random dashes of magic are also baffling, such as an inexplicable talking head in a box and a talking raven with a haunting refrain.
Even the music is hard to get on board with: its bizarre meter results in songs that are not only hard to follow but outright disappointing. Additionally, the acoustics aren’t great — with the band split between two platforms and missing a bass drum to help keep things on tempo.
What can be said for the play is that Susan Branche Towne gives the students some pretty attire, and although I’m not sure Danny Herman’s directing could do anything to salvage this script, his choreography has its charming moments. It’s a shame the talented cast was given such a crumby script to try and bring to life.