The Robber Bridegroom

A Student’s Perspective: The Robber Bridegroom


rbg1Roundabout’s high school education intern, Yasmine Haddad, participated in a pre-show workshop and talk with the cast before attending The Robber Bridegroom with Student Production Workshop (SPW) students. She recounts her experience below:

Last week, SPW students and I got the opportunity to work with Carrie Heitman, a teaching artist from Roundabout, who led us in a workshop surrounding The Robber Bridegroom. After the workshop, we met with cast members and attended the show.

Carrie established the focus on the characters from the musical through fun, creative activities. Since some of the characters in The Robber Bridegroom are criminals, Carrie initiated the workshop by having us describe the stereotypes or images associated with words like “robber” or “theft.” She then asked one person to stand in the middle of the room, while the rest of the participants divided into two groups. One group’s goal was to convince the individual standing to steal, while the other group’s goal was to dissuade the individual from stealing. Both groups made impressive arguments like “How would your mother feel knowing she raised a thief? As your mother, she would be very disappointed” or “Your child needs that new calculator for school, without any money, all you really can do is steal” to support their causes.


Following this, Carrie shifted our focus to lyrical analysis in relation to the characters. She asked us what kind of lyrics a good musical should include. We answered with responses about how the songs should have rhythm and tie back to the plot while offering insight on the performer's perspective. Carrie asked us to work in groups again to create lyrics describing the personalities of some of the characters based off the scenes we read from the script she provided us with earlier. Each group performed the song. I think my group had the funniest lyrics because we made fun of the character Salome for being a gold digger. At the end of the workshop, we thanked Carrie for her time and prepared for our Q&A with some of the cast members from The Robber Bridegroom.

We shared a fun, light discussion with the cast members and gained insight on the rehearsal and audition process that took place before the show hit the stage. I learned that some of the actors and the director, Alex Timbers, have been working on The Robber Bridegroom for quite some time now, and everybody is excited that it’s finally happening! One of the questions that was asked was what is the main difference between the actors and their characters, to which  Greg Hildreth, who portrays Goat, answered, “My character is dimwitted and I like to think I’m not.”


Cathlouin, a member of SPW, asked Nadia Quinn how she developed her character as Goat’s mother. Nadia shared with us how she met with Alex and decided to give the character a background story, where she and her son have a junkyard and they sell used items to get by. When asked what his favorite moment from the musical was, Lance Robert, the actor portraying Clement Musgrove, stated it was during the musical number for “Steal With Style” because he feels as if he’s in a music video. Lance told us to keep a look-out for his face during the song for proof of his claims.

After sharing a pizza dinner, we went to finally view The Robber Bridegroom downstairs in the theatre, and we’re very pleased with the production, it was so much fun to watch! My favorite song was “Rosamund’s Dream.” We even waited for Lance’s reaction during the show and were not disappointed with what we saw!

The Robber Bridegroom is now playing at The Laura Pels Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Student Production Workshop, The Robber Bridegroom

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Alex Timbers

Alex Timbers

On March 12, 2016, Alex Timbers spoke about The Robber Bridegroom with education dramaturg Ted Sod as part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s lecture series.

An edited transcript follows. (Beware: There are spoilers below.)


Ted Sod: Will you fill us in on what happened once you graduated from Yale and began your directing career? You started a company, I believe, and did a lot of devised work.

Alex Timbers: I graduated from college and my first job was as an intern for the artistic director of Manhattan Theatre Club, which gives you such a bird’s-eye view of how theatre works. And one of the first things you realize, that you don’t learn in college, is that in New York people who are 22 don’t get to direct Thornton Wilder. I decided to create my own theatre company in order to create a job for myself as a director. And what I noticed was that there are about 300 off-off-Broadway theatre companies. What I wanted to do was create a theatre company that had a very specific mission statement so that our work might stand out, something more specific for example than doing classical plays through a modern lens. I focused on doing work about historical subject matter through an irreverent and contemporary prism. And I think that bears out in The Robber Bridegroom, where we’re looking at something that’s historical and hopefully we’re giving a fresh take to it.


TS: And the name of that company is French, correct?

AT: We called it Les Frères Corbusier, the Corbusier Brothers. We did some work about urban planning early on.


TS: And did you start that company with other graduates from Yale?

AT: Yes, I began it with two great people I went to college with. The other thing that we did was we started leanly. I would work with other theatre companies where there would be 16 staff members, everyone unpaid. And you’d have a marketing manager, but there wouldn’t be a marketing budget. So after the third meeting the marketing manager would stop showing up, because there wasn’t anything for them to do. We started out with just two or three people, more like how you would run a dance company. We had a producer or two and an artistic leader.

HERE'S HOOVER! by Timber's theater company

HERE'S HOOVER! by Timber's theater company


TS: And is that company still producing?

AT: We did a show about Herbert Hoover last year that was really fun.


TS: Let’s talk about your history with plays that are being revived. You haven’t done many revivals.

AT: No, this is my first revival in New York City.


TS: Sometimes revivals require a different take from the director. Did you have to approach this material differently because it had already been done?

AT: We were very lucky that Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman, who wrote the show and hadn’t had a professionally produced revival in New York in about 40 years, love this show and so they were very involved with it. And they allowed us to approach it as a new work. Outside of New York, The Robber Bridegroom is performed all around America; but some of the songs you saw today have never been performed as part of The Robber Bridegroom the way that they’re performed here. The opening of the show is completely different. There’s about 15 or 20 percent of the show that’s different. So what you’re seeing is a very unique production of The Robber Bridegroom. It still has the same spirit as the 1975 and 1976 productions.

Design for the original production of THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

Design for the original production of THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

I’ve never seen a tape of what the original show was, but I read all the reviews and read people’s responses to the show and from those I learned about the show’s assets and what worked less well.


TS: When I interviewed Alfred Uhry, the librettist and lyricist, he said, “This is Alex’s baby. I don't know exactly what he’s going to do with it, but he’s going to take it and do something grand with it. I’ve waited a long time to find the right director and Alex is the right director. But at the same time, it’s not like we’re creating a show from scratch.”

AT: Both Alfred and Bob have been very collaborative. That collaboration manifests itself in all sorts of ways in every department. We have a music director named Justin Levine and a choreographer, Connor Gallagher. And the authors just basically said to us, “Have at it. Go make your version of The Robber Bridegroom. We don’t want a replica of the 1975 production.” At the first meeting I raised my hand and said to Alfred, “You know, I want to talk about the script. Can we look at this scene?” He’s written brand new scenes. That whole wedding sequence at the end, where it’s a reprise of Jamie Lockhart’s song, “Love Stolen” -- in every other production, that’s a square dance. And we thought there was more of an emotional connection there and added a reprise of an earlier song instead, for example.

So, not only have we revisited all the music with their blessing, but we’ve also looked at the orchestrations. Is this a banjo-heavy song? Does piano play on this? Piano usually isn’t a part of The Robber Bridegroom, but it was important to us to get the feeling and the vibe and to have something percussive. So there have been two orchestrators, Justin Levine and Martin Lowe, who worked on Once, and both men have gone through the show and reworked Robert’s orchestrations. That’s something that’s helped make it feel new too.


TS: When you pitched the show to our artistic director, Todd Haimes, was he familiar with the show?

AT: Todd didn’t know the show. He’d heard of the title. This was around 2011. Todd is so generous and artist friendly that he suggested something that artistic directors rarely might suggest. He said, “I’d like to spend some money exploring this.” He gave us a three-week lab to go and work on it with a full cast and a band in a rehearsal room. No audience, no ticket sales to make the money spent back. We got to figure out, with the choreographer and the music director, a lot of the staging that you saw today.


TS: The original production had 17 actors, I believe.

AT: Yes, all the other productions that you’ll see are basically done with 17 or 18 actors. One of the things that we thought would be cool is to celebrate the abilities of a group of really smart actors. So we shrunk everything down to nine people and a band. The actors could pick up instruments and there would be fluidity with the band.


Eudora Welthy's novella

Eudora Welthy's novella

TS: I’m curious about your response to Eudora Welty’s novella, on which this musical is based, because you told me you read that first. Will you give us a sense of how you prepared to direct this? And what happened when you got in the rehearsal room?

AT: The process of adaptation in this show is really unique because when you think about it, it started as a Brothers Grimm fairy tale called The Robber Bridegroom. And then Eudora Welty, a southern Gothic writer, adapted it into a novella also called The Robber Bridegroom. And then Alfred and Robert wrote to her and said, “We’d like to make this into a musical.” And she said, “Actually, many people have tried to do this and failed, but you may have the rights.” And so they began to adapt it. This material has had many different iterations. In terms of the process of research, what you do on a revival in addition to researching the original production, is you also look at the time period. What was going on in The Natchez Trace? What were things that people took part in in everyday life? What was the predicament of a bandit like Jamie or a girl like Rosamund? Sitting around a table and discussing these ideas -- that was the process during the first couple of days of rehearsal.


TS: How do you collaborate with Justin and Connor?

AT: They’re great collaborators and they’re witty and I think wit is an underappreciated value these days. They’re both good storytellers. We went through a pre-production process on everything. Everyone brings ideas to the table and then you winnow those ideas. With Connor, what we were able to do in December, through the kindness of the Roundabout, was a dance lab with a bunch of young actors. We were able to get in a rehearsal room to work out some of the more complicated dance sequences. Through that process you get an idea on what works and what doesn’t. And through that process you get to have a similar, shared sensibility. I think musicals are different than plays or other art forms that are collaborative. For musicals to succeed, I think all collaborators need to be rowing in the same direction. What you learn working on musicals is that everyone needs to be telling the same story in the same style; otherwise, you’re dead.


TS: I’ve heard it characterized as everybody has to be in the same world at the same time. The score, when it was first done, was called “bluegrass,” and Robert, the composer, calls it Appalachian. It was very rare for a New York audience to see a musical with a score like this at the time of the original production. Do you feel audiences have caught up with bluegrass music and that it’s more pervasive in the culture now?

AT: I think this spring is a really interesting time in musical theatre because at the Cort Theatre, you’ve got Bright Star, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s musical. That’s got a bluegrass score. Down at the Public you’ve got a show opening tomorrow called Southern Comfort and that’s got a bluegrass score as well. I think bluegrass is a completely theatrical idiom of music. And it’s something that’s popular and in the zeitgeist right now.


Steven Pasquale and the company of THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

Steven Pasquale and the company of THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

TS: I want to talk about your design team. What I love about your shows – and I don’t mean to make it reductive – is that the sets sometimes spill into the audience. I sense a part of your understanding of theatre is the audience can’t be passive. Is that true?

AT: I think the idea in The Robber Bridegroom is that these characters are telling a story that they love, a story that means a great deal to them. I think the actors’ storytelling is something that should be celebrated. And the theatre as a sacred place for storytelling is important. So having the footlights divide you and the actors is not part of what our mission is on this show. The actors are becoming these characters. That’s important to us. It’s important that you’re here.

We made certain efforts in the design like pulling out the front-row seats, pushing the stage forward. We carried the set design into the house. We wanted to keep reinforcing that we’re here in the same room together. We know that the show takes place in 1795 – but we made certain choices to contemporize some of the costumes, for instance. What are people buying at thrift stores that relates to what people were wearing in 1795? And we did that because this isn’t a museum piece. We wanted it to be an aspirational experience for the audience. We want you to feel as if you want to hang out with these characters, wear these clothes, play with this band.


TS: You sometimes refer to this as “DIY theatre” or do-it-yourself. Will you tell us about do-it-yourself theatre?

AT: I work on shows that require all sorts of different aesthetics, ones where – I mean you see them all the time on Broadway – where a giant room comes in or comes up through the floor or whatever and every prop is detailed. And I think those are great for a certain type of theatre. But here, what we’re saying is, “We’re creating the story in front of you.” What we want is a lean-in experience for the audience. We want to engage the audience’s imagination.

We use the props we have on hand and use them over and over and over again to detail different locations and have the actors become the environment and the scenery. So it’s a very do-it-yourself aesthetic. I think it’s something that you wouldn’t do in a movie. It’s something that’s inherently theatrical and engages the audience in the act of storytelling.


TS: I also want to talk about the audience’s romance with con men. It seems like we never get enough of them. Why do you think that is? We’re watching one play out on the national political stage right now.

AT: I think musical theatre has a great history with hucksters as protagonists. If you look at The Music Man’s Harold Hill or you look at the protagonists in The Producers or you look at Billy Flynn in Chicago. We love these kinds of salesmen. I think that part of the reason is that these characters try to better their predicament, they make positive, active choices. Think of Charlie Brown. He always gets that football taken away from him, but he always gets back up to try to kick it. And that’s what we love. We love people who try, who sell themselves, who are actively trying to work out how to make things happen. I think that Jamie Lockhart and this whole band of robbers and bandits are like that as well. Rosamund is a compulsive liar. That’s an interesting character flaw.


Ahna O'Reilly as Rosamund in THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

Ahna O'Reilly as Rosamund in THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

TS: She’s been around Salome, her stepmother, for a long time. Her father is sweet and seemingly naïve. It’s fascinating to me that Rosamund has had polarities of behavior as a moral compass.

AT: Her backstory is actually really interesting in the novella. Clement Musgrove’s original wife was a woman named Amalie and he had twins with her, just like the twins at the end. And one of them was Rosamund and one was a boy. Clement went on a trip with a guy named Kentucky Thomas, and his wife Salome, and they were attacked on the frontier. And the only people who survived were Rosamund, Clement and Salome. Clement knew immediately that Salome was not a right match for him, but they were so desperate for water that he made a promise to God. He said, “If I find water, I will marry this woman and do right by her.” And the next moment he found water.


TS: So now it’s your turn to ask questions.

Audience Member #1: Hi, I just wanted to say this is my second time seeing the show. And it’s even funnier the second time. There’s so much that I didn’t catch the first time. Anyway, are there any plans to record a cast album of this production?

AT: We would love to do that. I think that there is a cast album of the Barry Bostwick version from 1976 and it’s a great recording. But particularly with these new orchestrations and this cast, it would be amazing to have it be recorded.


TS: It might be good to just give you a brief history on this show. This is the second show that Bob and Alfred wrote together. Alfred had only been doing lyrics up to that point. And he did the book for this with the blessing of Gerry Freedman, the original director, who kept encouraging him. Of course, now he’s a playwright almost exclusively. But he has written a new libretto for a piece that’s being done at Long Wharf about Toulouse-Lautrec. The Robber Bridegroom was done as a workshop at St. Clements in 1974 with Raul Julia in the title part.

Patti Lupone and Kevin Kline in THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

Patti Lupone and Kevin Kline in THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

There was a woman named Margo Harley, who was associated with the Julliard School, who went to John Houseman and said, “This show is perfect for us.” And they did it on tour with Patti LuPone and Kevin Kline. And while they were on tour, a producer said, “Let’s do it on Broadway.” But since Kline and LuPone were on the road, they decided to recast it with Barry Bostwick and a woman whom I haven’t heard much of since, Rhonda Coullet.

AT: And what’s interesting too is it was on Broadway with Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone for about 14 performances.


TS: They were at the Harkness Theatre and that qualified them for Tony nominations.

AT: Patti LuPone and Alfred both got nominated.


TS: And then the next year it was considered a revival.

AT: Barry Bostwick won the Tony for best actor in a musical.


TS: Waldman has continued to write incidental music. He has composed music for a lot of plays at Lincoln Center. And, of course, Alfred wrote his great Atlanta trilogy: Driving Miss Daisy, Parade and The Last Night of Ballyhoo.

Audience Member #2: I’m curious about one thing, as a musician. The whole thing of doing the sound effects yourselves is almost like old-time radio or a vaudeville effect that really charmed me.

AT: Thank you. In terms of the sound effects, that was part of the do-it-yourself quality of it. We wanted the company to be able to comment on scenes that they weren’t in, but also to create the visual and sonic environments for scenes they weren’t necessarily in either. It all goes back to the idea of communal storytelling.


Audience Member #3: Hi, Alex. Can you offer any advice to new graduates on how to start a theatre company?

AT: The three things that I normally tell people is be really specific with the kind of theatre you want to create because your company will need to stand out from other companies, which I think is a hard thing to do. Also, it’s generally difficult in the long run to create a company with all the people who you went to college or graduate school with because at the end of the day, you all might actually like different kinds of theatre and after a couple of productions, you guys will each want something different from the future of the company. Also it’s helpful to have one artistic director.


TS: Sometimes that mission of a new company will morph, correct?

AT: Yes, over the years.


Alex Timbers directing THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

Alex Timbers directing THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM

TS: Every year there seems to be new companies. I have no idea where they get their money from. But, Alex, wouldn’t you say that’s a big deal? Finding the money to produce?

AT: Absolutely, yes.


TS: And it’s always very valuable to get some press, so people know you exist. And if you’re lucky enough to have The New York Times come by, sometimes it can be a big help. It’s a complicated thing. There are so many new companies and new companies of mostly people who’ve just graduated from Brown or wherever. I feel like it’s a huge undertaking. But I’m sure if you think about what’s missing here in New York City, you’ll find out there actually is something missing.

Audience Member #5: Can you speak a bit more about your first experience with the show, the squash court that you mentioned? What was it about that production that was so inspiring for you?

AT: I was an undergraduate in college. And some kids I went to school with put on The Robber Bridegroom and I had never heard of the show before. And what I remember about it was the mischievous quality to the actor-audience relationship. I found it really charged and exciting. It didn’t feel elevated and elitist. It felt just kind of anarchic and a little raunchy. I just remember being surprised. It wasn’t what I thought musicals were.


Audience Member #4: I found the scene with the masks intriguing, while everyone was singing and dancing. Was it difficult for the actors to balance it all?

AT: That moment with the masks in Salome’s song, “The Pricklepear Bloom,” was actually an interesting moment in the rehearsal process and came out of a conversation with the music director, Justin Levine, the choreographer, Connor Gallagher, and Leslie Kritzer who plays the role. Our feeling was that it would be great for the song to have a lift at some point. It would be fun to have a “dream ballet” for Salome. And that was something in rehearsal that we started exploring: “What would her dream be?” We decided on a whole world of Salomes where she was glorified and everyone was like her, instead of her being an outsider, maligned. And so that was where the masks came from and how the choreographer and music director built that whole sequence.


TS: Something we didn’t discuss is the fact that throughout this play – and it’s something that you mention in the playgoers’ guide interview – there is this concept of duality. Everybody has a dual nature in the piece. I feel like that’s something the audience can take away with them -- nothing is ever what it really seems to be.

AT: Jamie Lockhart is the Bandit of the Wood and he’s Jamie Lockhart, the gentleman. Rosamund’s the girl that dresses up like a crazy person and then she’s also beautiful Rosamund, a merchant’s daughter. Throughout the show there’s this duality that lurks. I think that it’s an important theme in the piece. Where I find it the most resonant is in the songs like “Deeper in the Woods,” where you really get that sense that two different worlds co-exist out there. I like the duality of the hard-hearted world and the more romantic, gauzy world that surrounds us.

The Robber Bridegroom is playing through May 29 at the Laura Pels Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, A Conversation with, Education @ Roundabout, The Robber Bridegroom

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The Natchez Trace: Traveling the Devil’s Backbone


Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty

“Why, just to write about what might happen along some little road like the Natchez Trace—which reaches so far into the past and has been the trail for so many kinds of people— is enough to keep you busy for life.” -- Eudora Welty

Author Eudora Welty found inspiration in the land surrounding her childhood home in Jackson, Mississippi. Welty set The Robber Bridegroom and several other stories along the Natchez Trace: a 450-mile forest pathway connecting Natchez, Mississippi with Nashville. The path easily slopes from high ridges to deep valleys, making it easy for animals and people to traverse on foot. Its history goes back to prehistoric times and teems with colorful incidents and legends. Though the Trace itself may be gentle, many of its travellers were anything but.

During prehistoric times, bison and other grazing animals traipsed along the Trace to reach salt licks in the Tennessee area. Native American hunters then followed the "traces" of the herds. American mound builders, the ancient tribes of the Mississippi region, settled along the Trace and built large earthen mounds that still stand today. Centuries later, the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Natchez tribes all lived along the Trace.

In the 18th century, Europeans from Spain and France used the road as a trade route and widened the path for their horses and wagons. The US acquired the Mississippi territory in 1798. Under Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, the US army began improving the path of the Trace so that it could serve as a major artery to the southwest frontier.

The route bustled with activity from the late-18th into the early-19th century. Farmers and boatmen from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky began floating supplies down to ports in Natchez (then a busy trade port) and New Orleans in the early 1800s. Regardless of where they came from, they were collectively known as "Kaintucks." After selling their goods, the Kaintucks walked or rode horses up the Trace to return to Nashville. This trip took three to four weeks, so there were many roughly-built inns (with names like Buzzard Roost and Sheboss Place!) for rest stops along the way. From 1800-1930, the Trace was the most-travelled road in the southern US, used by over 10,000 people each year.

Devi's Backbone Trail

Devi's Backbone Trail

Far from cities, civilization, or law enforcement, the Trace was a rugged, rustic frontier that attracted all sorts of people: fur traders, hunters, pioneer families, and shopkeepers. Because it was a secluded route, it also attracted bandits and highwaymen. Two of the first organized gangs in the US operated hideouts along the Trace. Travellers risked being held up or even murdered, and the area was so dangerous that it became known as “the Devil’s Backbone.”

By 1820, most travellers abandoned the Natchez Trace in favor of faster steamboats and a new, direct road between Nashville and New Orleans. With faster, safer options, the Trace was no longer a choice route. By 1830 it was barely used and was reclaimed by wilderness. In the 20th century, it was paved. The Natchez Trace Parkway is now maintained by the National Park Service. The 444-mile drive allows drivers, bikers, horseback riders, and campers to enjoy the exceptional scenery and 10,000 years of history, without any threat of bandits!


The Ghost Town of Rodney

Today, the town of Rodney, Mississippi is considered a ghost town, but like the Natchez Trace, this setting for The Robber Bridegroom has a rich history. Americans and Europeans began settling in the area, about 30 miles north of Natchez, during the 1770s, and the town of Rodney was incorporated in 1828. By the 1860s, it was one of the busiest ports along the Mississippi River: a bustling town with churches, hotels, banks, and over 4,000 residents. Rodney’s economy declined after the Civil War, and in 1869 much of the town was destroyed by a fire. Nature dealt the ultimate blow, with a sandbar in the Mississippi that shifted the course of the river away from the town. By 1870, Rodney no longer had a port, and the next 50 years saw a steady decline in business and population. A Governor’s proclamation officially closed Rodney in 1830. Today, the remains of Rodney can be reached only by a single dirt road. It has no operating businesses, and only a few people still live near the town ruins.


Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis

The Mystery of Meriwether Lewis

One of the most famous travelers (and victims) of the Trace was explorer Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark). In 1809, Lewis stopped for the night at Grinder's Stand, an inn in Tennessee. Shots were heard by the innkeeper's wife at night, and in the morning Lewis was found dead in his room. Although an investigation determined his death was a suicide, his family remained convinced that the innkeeper was involved with his murder. Certainly, he was not be the first person to enter the Trace on foot and leave in a coffin.



The Robber Bridegroom plays through May 29, 2016 at the Laura Pels Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, Education @ Roundabout, The Robber Bridegroom, Upstage

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