A sexy leading man and inventive director collaborate to charm audiences in “The Robber Bridegroom,” a mid-1970s musical by Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”) and Robert Waldman that counts as its source material a story by Mississippi writer Eudora Welty.
Steven Pasquale (“The Bridges of Madison County”) and Alex Timbers (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) deserve an extra helping of applause for the Roundabout revival now on the boards at the Laura Pels Theatre, because the thin-ish plot and bluegrass score of this eccentric tuner are not to everyone’s tastes.
“The Robber Bridegroom” had separate Broadway runs in 1975 and 1976. Leads in the first cast were Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone. When it returned to the Rialto after a national tour, the star was Barry Bostwick, who would win a Tony Award as Jamie Lockhart, a “gentleman robber” with a stylized mark of berry juice on one side of his face.
As “Robber” unfolds, Jamie saves wealthy plantation owner Clement Musgrove (Lance Robert) from losing his bags of money to thieves. In gratitude, the man invites Jamie for dinner, hoping to stoke interest in his daughter, Rosamund (Ahna O’Reilly). But Rosamund has already met and fallen in love with a “different” fella, “The Bandit of the Wood,” and so has no interest in dad’s matchmaking.
From the giddy opening number, “Once Upon the Natchez Trace,” the audience is in on the big joke in “The Robber Bridegroom”: Honest, if rough-hewn Jamie has a nighttime alter-ego who only steals “with style” and has a penchant for illicit love affairs.
Most of “The Robber Bridegroom” is presented as a series of songs with a Southern, “Hee Haw” sort of vibe. The tone, of course, is a departure from both Welty’s novel and the Grimm Brothers fairy tales that inspired her.
The reliable Pasquale, recently seen in the Encores! staging of “The Wild Party,” is having oodles of fun with his “good ol’ boy” routine, so much so that during a goofier number about plans to move to New Orleans—where “the clouds hang golden as bananas in the sky”—the actor nearly loses his composure and breaks the fourth wall.
Leslie Kritzer has a scenery chewing turn as the planter’s flirty second wife, Salome, an evil stepmother who evokes Carol Burnett’s Miss Hannigan in the movie version of “Annie,” though Salome’s teeth are worse off. Kritzer’s Salome is amoral, sex-crazed and able to whisk a flask from her cleavage in a single-bound.
O’Reilly is very sweet in the less showy role as as the devoted daughter often relegated to hunting down herbs in the woods for her father’s nasty spouse. Also among the rogue’s gallery of dimwits here are a pair of con man brothers, Little Harp and Big Harp (Andrew Durand and Evan Harrington) and a village idiot, Goat (Greg Hildreth).
Timbers employs inventive sound effects and non-stop movement to keep things interesting. “The Robber Bridegroom” is certainly one of the season’s lighter offerings, but if in-your-face, rural slapstick is your thing, it could make off with your heart.
“The Robber Bridegroom,” through May 29 at the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. Tickets: $99. Call 212-719-1300.