By Barry Bassis
I don’t remember any year when there were so many country/bluegrass musicals in town.
Robber Bridegroom, The Laura Pels Theatre
Andrew Durand, Evan Harrington, Leslie Kritzer, Ahna O’Reilly, Steven Pasquale, Nadia Quinn, Lance Roberts, Devere Rogers
Alex Timbers (director)
Justin Levine (music director)
Connor Gallagher (choreography)
Donyale Werle (sets)
Emily Rebholz (costumes)
Jeff Croiter & Jake DeGroot (lighting)
Darron L West & Charles Coes (sound)
Justin Levine & Martin Lowe (orchestrations)
Leah Loukas (wig and make-up)
Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum (fight director)
Written by: Alfred Uhry
Music by: Robert Waldman
“The Robber Bridegroom” is a revival of a 1975 musical, based on a Eudora Welty novella, with a book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry and music by Robert Waldman. The fairy tale plot involves Rosamund, the daughter of a rich plantation owner, who travels into the woods where she meets the roguish title character. The girl has a nasty but very funny gold-toothed stepmother. The music is lively and the seductive rogue is played by the charismatic and powerful voiced Steven Pasquale (the polar opposite of his part as the racist cop Mark Fuhrman in the OJ Simpson series). The scene stealer is Leslie Kritzer as the evil stepmother. The lively choreography by Connor Gallagher is another plus. Director Alex Timbers first achieved fame for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” but “The Robber Bridegroom” gave me more pleasure.
“Bright Star” is a bluegrass musical with music, lyrics and story by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell with a book by Martin. The plot involves a poor girl falling in love with a rich boy, who impregnates her. There is another story taking place many years later when she is a literary editor and discovers a talented young southern writer. At the end, the two plots converge into a happy ending. Though there are witty lines here and there, the book is surprisingly stodgy for the formerly “wild and crazy” guy. Fortunately, the show is filled with delightful songs and Carmen Cusack, making her Broadway debut in the starring role of Alice Murphy, is wonderful. This show leaves the audience feeling good.
I caught one of the last performances of “Southern Comfort,” the bluegrass musical based on Kate Davis’ documentary film. The Public Theater continues its practice of putting on innovative musicals that touch the heart, like “Fun Home” and “Caroline, or Change.” I don’t know if this one will make the move to Broadway but it deserves to. “Southern Comfort” deals with a group of transgender friends in rural Georgia, contending with community hostility and their own personal issues. Annette O’Toole (the hottie of 70’s films such as “The Cat People” and “Smile”) portrays Robert Eads, who was born Barbara but has become a man, complete with facial hair. She is convincing and is also an excellent singer. The musical, with book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis, was directed by Thomas Caruso (who conceived the show with Robert DuSold). They and the cast all merit accolades.
For a musical with a completely different style of music, check out the deliriously funny “Disaster!” This is a take-off on such tacky Hollywood movies as “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Earthquake.” It’s hard to satirize something that’s already pretty silly, but “Disaster!” manages. The production is helped by a top-flight cast: Adam Pascal and Kerry Butler are ex-lovers, Roger Bart is the sleazy owner of the doomed cruise ship, and Rachel York is his clueless girlfriend. Her twin son and daughter are cleverly played by Baylee Littrel, Faith Prince and Kevin Chamberlin are a prickly couple, Seth Rudetsky is the scientist no one listens to—he also wrote the script with director Jack Plotnick—and, best of all, Jennifer Simard is a nun with a gambling addiction. The songs are all pop hits from the 1970’s.