The Robber Bridegroom
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy, Progress Energy Center
Through June 29
Brimming with vivacity, Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy's The Robber Bridegroom is a solidly crafted, entertaining production that tells the tall tale of Rodney, Miss. in 1795, when fetish-mongering robbers, bodiless heads, sexy ravens and consequence-less murders were the norm. Adapted by Alfred Uhry (perhaps best known for his play Driving Miss Daisy) from Eudora Welty's smashing Grimm-inspired fairytale novel of the same name, the show was originally performed on Broadway in 1976 with catchy numbers by Robert Waldman.
Director and choreographer Matthew-Jason Willis deserves praise, along with assistant director Lindsay Leb, for the play's perpetual, but uncluttered, onstage movement, as well as the infectious dance numbers. Other aspects of the production succeed, from the rousing live music (a banjo, fiddle, guitar and bass combo comprised of six shifting musicians) to Casey Watkins' noteworthy costume design (especially Raven's seductress garb of black lace, corset and feathered legs, donned by an alluring Leb).
This production is a madcap comedy—and a risqué one at that, an end well served by the wholly strong cast. From the get-go, the ensemble effectively suspends the audience's disbelief when it mischievously sings, "We never would stand here and lie in your face." Most memorable are the performances by Andrea Schulz Twiss as the feisty daydreamer and compulsive liar Rosamund; Will Ray's stylish swindler and "Bandit of the Woods" Jaime Lockhart; and the vaudevillian Susan Durham-Lozaw's turn as Rosamund's conniving yet underloved step-mother, Salmoe.
Though the cast is united in its aim to add vulgarity to The Robber Bridegroom, the play would benefit from more serious attention paid to the disturbing psychological undertones of the story. When Jaime Lockhart cheerily announces he only makes love to unconscious women—after socking his girlfriend Rosamund in the face—the dark moment's edge is mostly lost in Lockhart's brightness. David Henderson, in particular, excels beyond the production's shortcoming with the unnerving raw greed and longing of the pirate-esque robber Little Harp.
The production also lags somewhat halfway through Act II, before a startlingly, lightning quick, and therefore obligatory-feeling happy ending. However, despite these hiccups, The Robber Bridegroom is a delightful production that will tickle your folklore fancy.