WHAT “The Robber Bridegroom”
WHERE Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.
INFO $99; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.com
BOTTOM LINE Dashing Steven Pasquale squandered in cutsey revival.
In 1975, the late John Houseman, who had impeccable taste, got the rights to a little country-western fairy tale for The Acting Company, the touring troupe he hand-picked from his precocious drama class at Juilliard. Youngsters named Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone played the love-crossed leads.
Houseman brought “The Robber Bridegroom” briefly to Broadway that year and an expanded version returned in 1976 with a different cast, including Barry Bostwick as the dashing anti-hero with a dual identity.
The show has popped up in regional and community theaters over the decades. Until the Roundabout Theatre revived it in its Off-Broadway space, however, the hokey folky musical has not been around these here parts in 40 years.
And I sit here thinking “John Houseman? Really? He actually picked this?” Whatever charm let’s assume the thing had during an admittedly fallow time in Broadway history, the revival amounts to 90 minutes of icky-sweet, grating, perky tedium that not even the major gifts of omnipresent TV star Steven Pasquale can redeem.
Director Alex Timbers has turned genres gleefully on their edges with “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Here Lies Love.” Right now, however, he is back in his sappy “Peter and the Starcatcher” mood, with manic characters creating props in faux Story Theater style and a humor that, except for the raunchy bits and a brief moment of nudity when the robber steals the heroine’s clothes, seems more like a show for children than — what’s the cliché? — for the child within us all.
Alfred Uhry, who went on to win the 1988 Pulitzer for “Driving Miss Daisy,” wrote the lyrics and adapted the 1942 Eudora Welty novella that here plays like a heehaw 18th century Mississippi River version of Dogpatch. The characters, the fiddlers and the banjo players run up the aisles to the cluttered early-American junk-shop stage (by Donyale Werle). Actors hold a piece of wood and turn it into a swinging door. A tin box is banged on the floor for sound effects.
Robert Waldman’s songs, except for one with a lovely Elizabethan folk melody, all pretty much sound the same. The cast, including the lyrical Ahna O’Reilly as the rich planter’s daughter, is game and fine but, except for Greg Hildreth as a dimwit named Goat, most don’t seem to be enjoying their characters enough to find some idiosyncratic flair.
Pasquale doesn’t have much chance to show off the burnished voice and astonishing technique we heard in “The Bridges of Madison County.” But he is meant here to be a hunk, and that he is.