A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
The All Beaches Experimental Theatre (ABET) opened “The Robber Bridegroom” on January 25th, 2019. This high-spirited musical is sponsored by John Johnson and runs through February 10th.
The production by ABET is the North Florida premier. The story is based on a 1942 novella by Eudora Welty adapted from a story the Grimm brothers included in their book of European fairy tales (published 1812); she changed the setting from Germany to Mississippi. The story was rewritten as a musical in the early 1970s, with book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry and music by Robert Waldman. This version made its way to Broadway in 1975, has had several national tours, and is a frequent choice of regional theatres.
This is a lively show; a foot-stomping, knee-slapping hoedown. If you enjoy bluegrass, country dancing, and actors sashaying in the aisles, you are going to love it.
The story is that of handsome bad boy Jamie Lockhart, portrayed by Brian Matthews, seen most recently as Clifford Bradshaw, the love interest of Sally Bowles in Limelight’s “Cabaret.” He has a great voice, and is perfect for this role as a charming and seductive thief.
His chief competitors in thievery are the Harp sisters. Little Harp, portrayed hilariously by Ilana Gould, lugs the severed but talkative head of her sister around the stage in a trunk. Big Harp is portrayed by Leighton Baruch, who is making a stage comeback with this appearance.
Jamie receives a dinner invitation from well-heeled plantation owner Clement Musgrove, played uproariously by Brandon Hines in his ABET debut. He is well known on local stages, which notably have included roles at Players by the Sea in “La Cage aux Folles” and “Memphis, “and at The 5 & Dime in “Company.” Musgrove’s most esteemed treasure is his beautiful daughter Rosamund, portrayed by Jacksonville University theatre major Shauna Clark. She is a marvelous singer and has displayed her talents on JU’s stage and in community theatre productions, which have included “Mamma Mia, “Hairspray,” and “James and the Giant Peach.”
Jamie has eyes for Rosamund but her stepmother Salome (Sadie Akers) has plans of removing this stepchild permanently from her life. Salome is vicious and reportedly ugly, and while Akers appears wonderfully vicious, there isn’t enough makeup in the world to change her appearance to unlovely. We recently saw her and heard her excellent voice as Sally Bowles in Limelight’s production of “Cabaret.” Salome has hired the village simpleton Goat (Austin Kelly) as her hit man; to her dismay, he fumbles the job.
The cast is rounded out by three talented ladies who have assigned roles and also appear as ensemble members. Carly Barnes, who portrayed “Annie” at the Alhambra, appears as Airie; Reed Marie Grubbs, a Douglas Anderson sophomore, appears as Raven; and Jacquette ‘Jackie’ Jantzen appears as Goat’s mother. Jantzen was seen previously in “The Color Purple” at Players by the Sea.
We will leave the unfolding of the plot, filled with colorful characters and surprising happenings, for you to discover when you see the show.
The band is on stage and in full view of the audience, and did fantastic work with some challenging songs. The band included Musical Director Anthony Felton (Conductor, Piano), Andrew Phoenix (Guitar), Sean Tillis (Bass), and Kimberly Zielinski (Violin).
Bradley Akers, who directed this show, is very much in demand as both an actor and director. He is self-employed as a graphic designer, and develops promotional materials for local theatres.
The country dancing was choreographed by Amanda Baillie, and Pam Joiner created the unique costumes. Scenic Designer Brian Matthews (yes, the multi-talented show’s lead) has used wonderful furniture and props to portray a past era, while Light Designer Bryan Frank has added great lighting effects.
If you have not been to a show at ABET’s new home, you should make it a point to see one or more productions. They make amazing use of limited space. The theatre is located at 544 Atlantic Boulevard in Neptune Beach, Florida. Visit abettheatre.com or call 249-7177 for additional information and reservations.