By R. Jones
The Robber Bridegroom revival cast recording is like opening up a good book that you can’t put down. You are immediately transported to the world in which the characters live and you are taken on a breathtaking, hilarious adventure. It’s a fractured fairytale; one of a dashing rapscallion, evil stepmother with a twist, and beautiful damsel, bored out of her mind. The Roundabout Theatre Company’s retelling of this beautiful tale can be heard on the 2016 Cast Recording by Ghostlight Records, and what a retelling it is.
The sound has its roots in bluegrass and immediately reminded me of another fabulous production from earlier this year, Bright Star, though the stories couldn’t be more different. The characters are played out in the opening song, the stirring “Once Upon A Time the Natchez Trace.” There is immediate gratification as you feast your ears on this Mississippi fairytale.
Attention must be paid to the ensemble of this piece. Each performer is a true artist at work, their vocals are pristinely in action here. It’s one of the best, tightest ensembles I’ve ever heard. All the players are in sync, making for a thrilling adventure.
In “Two Heads,” we are introduced to Little Harp and Big Harp, sung with low-down gritty charm by Andrew Durand and Evan Harrington. The sound and humor of this duo is reminiscent of the sound and humor from the “Brother, Where Art Thou” album, mixed with a little “Guv’Ment” from Big River. The give and take between Durand and Harrington is hilarious.
And then there’s Steven Pasquale. Oh, Steven Pasquale. In my opinion, he is without pause, one of the best musical theater vocalists of our generation—perfect to play this dashing, rugged role of Jamie Lockhart, the Robber Bridegroom. In “Steal with Style,” the pulse of the song gets your heart racing, and Pasquale’s soaring vocals takes you on quite a ride. When the ensemble joins in with their incredible vocals, plus the instruments playing wildly, it turns the song into a church-like revival, with beautiful sound and vivid vocal color. The excitement grabs hold and you can’t help but get swept up.
An enormous mention is also owed to the insanely talented band that gives each and every number its story. They are characters in and of themselves and play their role beautifully.
Conductor/Piano/Guitar/Mandolin/Vocals (Yes, that’s true!) Cody Owen Stine leads his team with such excitement and spot on sound, that each and every one deserves a mention. So Mike Rosengarten, Ben Lively, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, and Matt Cusack, kudos to you.
Our ingénue of the piece, Ahna O’Reilly plays Rosamund beautifully, and as no shrinking violet, but rather a strong woman bored with her Belle-like provincial life who seeks out some more excitement. On the track “Rosamund’s Dream,” the tune—and O’Reilly’s gorgeous interpretation—are both haunting and poetic, even dreamlike. Such a spiritual, folklore sound, and when her and Pasquale’s vocals mix, it’s a musical theater paradise.
Leslie Kritzer is perfect as Salome. In “Picklepear Bloom,” she entwines her rare comic gift with her outstanding vocals. Showing off her comic/vocal prowess also on the track, “Marriage is Riches,” Kritzer is joined by the fabulous Lance Roberts as her husband Musgrove, and Pasquale. Roberts puts a gorgeous vocal stamp on this number and the trio sound incredible together.
“Deeper in the Woods” and “Love Stolen” are seductive and (sometimes hilarious) double entendre tracks shared between Rosamund and Jamie. You can feel the sexual tension exude between O’Reilly and Pasquale. The innuendos in “Lover Stolen” are so clever as Pasquale explains how it turns him on if love is stolen from the “cookie jar”. Even the title “Deeper in the Woods” implies a cold shower might be somewhere in his future if he’s not otherwise fulfilled.
Track-wise, the award for triumphant comedic bliss has got to go to “Goodbye to Salome,” thanks to Kritzer and company. In a hilarious turn of events, Little Harp thinks that Salome is the girl he was looking for and encourages her to jump in the sack to be taken away and she happily complies. If you can get past the misogyny of it, and embrace it as tongue in cheek, Kritzer’s back and forth with the company will have you laughing out loud. (When she yelled “You’re gonna die bitch,” I actually guffawed). She’s like Bluegrass’ horny evil queen.
My personal favorite track on the album is probably one of the shows most well-known songs as well. “Sleepy Man” is a beautiful lullaby. I also love that in a madcap pulsing score, there falls this simple and earnest ballad. It elegantly solidifies the love story underneath the mayhem.
The entire score, from its breathtaking beginning to its beautiful finale will have you yearning for more. It’s a gift when a piece like this returns, and we are treated to such an incredible score, unbelievable vocals, and an exemplary band. The Robber Bridegroom revival cast album is an exciting, tuneful gem that deserves to be on a shelf with other classic recordings, and in its rightful place within our canon of musical history.
For more information and to purchase The Robber Bridegroom revival cast recording, visit www.sh-k-boom.com.