Monday, August 6, 2018


The stage at Tower Grove Abbey is set for some tale tellin' in Stray Dog’s season closer, Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman’s The Robber Bridegroom. The musical was based on a novel that was loosely adapted from a Brothers Grimm story of the same name. Eudora Welty’s 1942 novel took the Grimm fairy tale and set it in 18th century Mississippi along the forests of the Natchez Trace. Uhry and Waldman’s musical has its share of fanciful, dark, even lurid elements, like you might expect from any fairy tale, but the score -- an uncommon blend of traditional Broadway music and authentic bluegrass, and Stray Dog’s tireless, country-fried cast of characters, provide a curiously savory mix.

Jamie Lockhart (center, Phil Leveling)
and the residents of Rodney, Mississippi.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Jamie Lockhart (Phil Leveling) is a man of two minds -- a seemingly honest gentleman, but the feared Bandit of the Woods when disguised under the stains of blackberry juice. Clemment Musgrove (Jeffrey M. Wright) is a wealthy plantation owner, which makes him the target of the thieving Harp brothers. Little Harp is played by Logan Willmore, and he carries around the severed, talking head of his brother, Big Harp (Kevin O’Brien), in a little trunk. What?! When Lockhart saves Musgrove from the Harp brothers, he invites Lockhart to dinner to reward him with hospitality and an introduction to his most prized treasure, his daughter Rosamund (Dawn Schmid). Musgrove spoils his baby girl rotten, but he can't help himself as she reminds him of his beloved first wife. Rosamund’s evil stepmother, Salome (Sarah Gene Dowling) -- lusty and mean as a snake, resents the constant reminder of Musgrove’s first wife, and she wants Rosamund to git gone -- for good.

The company of The Robber Bridegroom.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Energetically directed by Justin Been, engaged performances are elicited from the cast that remains onstage taking in the tale along with us, when they’re not playing their part in the story. Standouts include Leveling, brimming with backwoods charm as Lockhart, Dowling who is an absolute hoot to watch as the scheming Salome, and a strong-voiced Schmid who shines as Rosamund -- restless, chaste (for a while, anyway) and eager for excitement.

The score is full of great numbers, from the opening “Once Upon a Natchez Trace,” that manages to introduce all of the key players while setting the tone for the show, to the haunting “Deeper in the Woods” -- thrumming with sexual innuendo. The six-piece band doesn’t miss a beat under Jennifer Buchheit’s musical direction, and Been’s scenic design provides a cozy playing space for the cast. Mike Hodges changes up the choreography nicely so it doesn’t all bend towards square dancing, and additional touches, like the band members who take sips from little jugs during intermission, all complement the show well. Artistic director Gary F. Bell’s costumes inform the characters, with a nice touch for Susie Lawrence's character called Raven (a raven); a layer of “feathers,” cleverly sewn in under her skirt, allow her to whip it up over her shoulders to go from one of the townsfolk to Raven in the blink of an eye. 

Rosamund (center, Dawn Schmid)
and the residents of Rodney, Mississippi.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Brutal, lecherous, whimsical and entertaining -- it’s a musical that you don’t see staged all that often, so now's a great time to check out Stray Dog’s production at Tower Grove Abbey. It’s playing until the 18th.


Book/lyrics by Alfred Uhry
Music by Robert Waldman
Adapted from the novella by Eudora Welty
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through August 18 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, additional performance 2pm Sunday, August 12 and 8pm Wednesday, August 15

Phil Leveling, Jeffrey M. Wright,
Sarah Gene Dowling, and ensemble.
Photo credit: John Lamb
Jamie Lockhart, a gentleman robber: Phil Leveling
Clemment Musgrove, a wealthy planter: Jeffrey M. Wright
Rosamund, his daughter: Dawn Schmid
Salome, his second wife: Sarah Gene Dowling
Little Harp, a robber: Logan Willmore
Big Harp, the head of a robber: Kevin O’Brien
Goat, a simpleton: Bryce Miller
Airie, his sister: Christen Ringhausen
Raven, a raven: Susie Lawrence

Residents of Rodney
Chris Ceradsky
Shannon Lampkin
Rachel Sexson

Little Harp (Logan Willmore)
and Jamie Lockhart (Phil Leveling).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Associate Artistic Director: Justin Been
Stage Manager: Dani Mann
Assistant Stage Manager:Susan Bindler
Choreographer: Mike Hodges
Scenic Designer: Justin Been
Costume Designer: Gary F. Bell
Costume Stitcher: Amy Hopkins
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Production Intern: Kate Dunaway
Box Office Manager/Scenic Painter: Miles Bledsoe

The Band
Music Director/Piano: Jennifer Buchheit
Fiddle: Steven Frisbee
Fiddle/Mandolin: Mallory Golden
Banjo/Cello/Guitar: Michaela Kuba
Guitar: Marty Lastovica
Acoustic Bass/Bass Ukelele: M. Joshua Ryan

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