Susquehanna Theatre Company’s production of the blue grass tinged, “The Robber Bridegroom,” despite a hardworking cast and an outstanding physical production, ultimately does not amount to much.
The musical follows the swindling yet charming thief named Jamie Lockhart (Asher Johnson) as he attempts to woo the young yet naïve Rosamund (Jordyn McCrady). Lockhart poses as an upstanding citizen by day and a robber by night as the title suggests. Also involved in this story are Rosamund’s parents, Clement Musgrove (Kent Gable) and Rosamund’s comically villainous stepmother Salome (Meredith Stone). Both parents misunderstand their daughter, and intend to marry her off to Jamie Lockhart. A comedy of errors ensues as Rosamund meets and falls in love with Lockhart’s mysterious alter ego.
Asher Johnson gave a charismatic performance as the swagger filled Jamie Lockhart. He brought refreshing humor to his scenes while also sharing excellent chemistry with Jordyn Mccardy’s Rosamund. Jordyn McCardy as said in the program is the real life girlfriend of Asher Johnson. Their chemistry onstage was extremely evident and brought some nice moments to the otherwise very bland book. Johnson’s energy was strong throughout, but at times his voice got a bit overpowered by the microphones which sadly detracted greatly in the more rousing number “Steal with style”.
Jordyn McCardy brought refreshing innocence to the role of Rosamund. Her vocals shined in the act one number “Nothin up”, and was excellent in her moments with the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, the role just did not give this very talented actress much to do. The character of Rosamund is constantly forced into sexual situations, and at one point without her permission by Asher Johnson’s Jamie Lockhart. Although this is not in any way the actress’s fault, Mccardy did not play the character as anything less than naïve which made the scenes that were distasteful even more pronounced.
Meredith Stone was absolutely hysterical as Salome. This very twisted ugly step mother was played with great comedic verve by Stone. Her act one comedic number, “The Pricklepear Bloom” was sung with side splitting sass from Stone, and was one of the bright spots of the evening. Unfortunately, the character Salome disappears near the beginning of Act Two, which is a true shame as Stone lit up and truly elevated every scene she was in as the deliciously evil Salome.
Other strong comedic talents in the cast included Joe Kelly as the dim witted misfit, Goat, Wesley Madara as the comedically crude thief, Little Harp Sylvia Garner as Goat’s sister Aierie. These actors all put in very strong performances, but Kevin Allen as a Big Harp and Beth Gable as a Raven portrayed two of the most bizarre and irritating characters this critic has seen onstage. The character of Big Harp is literally a chopped off head that is the brains in Little Harp’s ridiculous schemes. The character is very odd on its own, and while Allen definitely plays up the creepiness of his role well, the character is so underdeveloped and just strange. His scenes are more uncomfortable than anything else. Beth Gable is stacked with a character who is equally as odd as a talking Raven, and while meant to be comedic, the shrill voice Gable uses for the character got extremely irritating by the end of her first scene.
While the cast for the most part is strong, the direction by Jim Johnson at many points felt a bit misguided. At many times during the more madcap production numbers, it was hard to tell where to look as the stage was overpopulated with actors. Other scenes suffered from a lack of development and clarity. For instance, an early scene in the woods where the characters of Jamie and Rosamund first meet, had the actors holding small fake leaves to represent trees, and for a while the lack of specificity made it hard to discern where the scene was meant to be set. Nevertheless, Johnson did manage to achieve surprisingly beautiful stage pictures in the blissful song “Deeper in the woods.” The setting this time was extremely clear with vibrant movement from Melissa Goodling and strong storytelling and focus by Johnson as Rosamund and Jamie’s relationship developed over the course of the song. This incredible number came out of nowhere, and gave this critic a taste of what this show could have been with a stronger focus.
The set design by Tyler Hoffman was very impressive as it completely transformed the stage into an authentic looking Missippi tavern. This setting worked well for many moments, but at times the location made it hard to discern as the staging got more abstract. The lighting also by Tyler Hoffman started out very well in the rousing open sequence that had the entire cast dancing throughout the stage. The atmospheric lighting was excellent here, but could have been more vibrant to highlight the musical’s more fantastical sequences.
The four-person band led by Nick Werner on Piano/Guitar played well but the poor sound design made it hard to hear the excellent onstage musicians playing these toe tapping tunes. Susquehanna Stage Company is a community theatre but for this show having at least two more members in the band could have helped to create a fuller sound. The rough sound design, greatly damaged this production as it was very difficult for the audience to discern the lyrics along with the band.
Although the cast was generally strong, a lack of a strong directorial vision and a disappointing sound system made this an evening of theatre that sadly was forgettable. The book and score while fine, also had their fair share of sexism and thinly drawn characters. Susquehanna Stage Company had good intentions with putting on The Robber Bridegroom, but unfortunately this was just not the right show for this theatre.