REVIEW: The Robber Bridegroom - 2016 Off-Broadway Cast

Recording CoverFor the handful of cast album collectors out there who happen to own a copy of the original 1976 Broadway cast recording of The Robber Bridegroom, they know what a poor listening experience that album is. Despite fantastic performances by Barry Bostwick (who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the titular character) and a great supporting cast, the sound of that album, at least on the CD transfer, is completely muddy, as if the microphones were covered in peanut butter, submerged in water, and then placed in a room next to the recording studio. That major failing aside, the cast album, with its collection of bluegrass-flavored tunes by Robert Waldman, is still a fun album and with no other commercially available version of the score previously available has earned many repeated listens on my playlist, flaws and all.

Jump ahead to 2016 and the news that Roundabout Theatre Company would be producing a major revival of The Robber Bridegroom off-Broadway starring Broadway leading man Steven Pasquale. I, for one, was more excited about the potential of a new cast album coming out of this production than the production itself and indeed, thanks to Ghostlight Records, we have a new, sharply produced cast album to celebrate. And yet...

Despite all it has going for it, this album fails to electrify. With so much working technically against the original cast recording, this new version should be miles ahead and yet to this reviewer, the result is a clean, professionally produced musical preservation of the show that never really sparkles. This is surprising given that on stage, this production as directed by Alex Timbers was a real hoot. The cast led by Pasquale and also featuring the talented and very funny Leslie Kritzer as Salome and Ahna O'Reilly as Rosamund was immensely entertaining. On disc, though, their performances, while on point, feel tame. Not flat, just missing a sort of je ne sais quoi. Did Timbers’s eclectic and even frenetic staging lend some magic to the production that doesn’t translate to a purely aural version of the production?

And it’s the performances that matter with this show, because The Robber Bridegroom is a slight fairy tale about a whole lot of nothing. When a bandit (Steven Pasquale) falls in love with and takes the honor of Rosamund, the daughter of Clement Musgrove (Lance Roberts), a very rich man, Musgrove asks Jaime Lockhart, who is actually the very same bandit, to avenge his daughter's name. Meanwhile, Rosamund’s greedy and nasty stepmother Salome (Kritzer) wants to "off" Rosamund whom she dislikes. A great deal of mistaken identity ensues over the show's rapid 90 minutes, resulting in Salome getting the axe and Rosamund and Lockhart coming together in classic musical theater fashion. As constructed in a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy and Parade), these characters are over-the-top and as portrayed on the original Broadway cast recording, the performances are equally outrageous in ways that are quite delightful. Here though, the cast’s performances feel wholesome and clean in ways that if not disappointing, never truly delight. The saving grace is the show's score itself which has its fair share of wonderful, toe-tapping numbers including “Once Upon the Natchez Trace,” “Nothin’ Up,” “Goodbye Salome,” and “Sleepy Man.”

What’s also less than exciting on this album are the show’s new orchestrations as arranged by Justin Levine and Martin Lowe. Now featuring a piano in addition to fiddles and guitars, this version sometimes feels more “Broadway” and polished than Waldman’s original arrangements. Not helping matters is that the vocalists on this new album feel like they are fighting the band the whole way with the latter at times overpowering the former.

For those who don’t own The Robber Bridegroom and are looking for a decent recording of the show, this new album is fine and can hold its own. But for my taste, I’m holding on to the original Broadway cast album, warts and all, for performances that are delightfully idiosyncratic.


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