"The Robber Bridegroom" is one of the more ingratiating Broadway musicals of recent vintage--a fairy-tale saga about the double life of a Mississippi gentleman/rogue, played out to the rhythms of a barn dance. The current revival at the King's Jester Dinner Theatre in Silver Spring is something in the nature of a patchwork quilt--solid performances alongside weak ones, lusty fiddling married to ho-hum choreography, spunky scenes stitched to moribund moments. But the production manages enough good fun to qualify as a step up for the struggling theater.
The major fly in the ointment is, unfortunately, the lead. As the well-mannered bridegroom, who has only to stain his face with berry juice to become the dashing robber of the Natchez Trace, Don Wiswell is a creature of forced swagger. The gusto of his singing does not conceal the flatness of his notes, and his courtship of the fair-haired Rosamund, the dreamy daughter of a rich plantation owner, is sexually inert.
The production scores its points with the supporting characters, a gallery of drawling grotesques drawn from the gothic world of novelist Eudora Welty. Richard Rohan is a robust embodiment of sweaty lasciviousness, as a bumbling two-bit thief named Little Harp, who carries the head of his brother, Big Harp, around in a trunk. (Big Harp, vigorously played from the neck up by Richard Fogg, is the brains of the operation.) Robert Redlinger's naive plantation owner is deftly drawn, Sharon Ammen acts his mean-spirited wife almost to the hilt, and the blond Brenda Burtner has at least good looks and a fine shape going for her as the nubile Rosamund.
The original Broadway staging, which used the weather-beaten paraphernalia in a barn to conjure up the various southern locales, was a miracle of inventiveness, compared to which Norman Aronovic's direction is a pale knockoff. But the King's Jester--in one instance--is showing the courage of its convictions. Deep in the woods, Rosamund stumbles upon the robber bridegroom, who immediately divests her of all her clothing. The resultant shenanigans, as she wends her way home with nothing but her hands to protect her modesty, made for one of Broadway's funniest nude sequences in years.
At Ford's Theatre, which revived the show a couple of summers back, Rosamund's plight was considerably diminished by a flesh-colored body stocking. Aronovic, getting back to basics, tosses his actress a couple of branches for garb. While you wouldn't exactly call that a big breakthrough, it does lend some support to the King's Jester's claims that it wants to vary the usual pastel pap on the dinner theater circuit. Now if only someone would spruce up the adjoining restaurant area, which is uncomfortably reminiscent of a dining room in a Prague railway station.
THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM. By Alfred Uhry. Music by Robert Waldman. Directed by Norman Aronovic. With Don Wiswell, Brenda Burtner, Sharon Ammen, Robert Redlinger, John Ross, Richard Rohan, Richard Fogg. At the King's Jester Dinner Theatre through July 24.