If you’re looking for some toe-tapping, heel-stomping fun in Ben Lomond, head to Park Hall to catch Mountain Community Theater’s (MCT) production of “The Robber Bridegroom.” This musical runs from Sept. 23 to Oct. 23, and has a cast and a soundtrack that’s sure to keep you humming and moving.
Director W. Scott Whisler is no stranger to Mountain Community Theater. He’s had his hands in many productions over the years, starting in 2011 with “The Elephant Man Hears a Who.” He returned to MCT in 2012 to participate in “Harvey,” and Whisler’s been involved with the theater ever since.
This is Whisler’s first time directing a musical in 30 years, though he’s somewhat loathed to refer to “The Robber Bridegroom” as a musical.
“This is a completely different ballgame for me. I did this show in college, and I just loved it,” he said. “For MCT, the stories we tell on stage knit our community together and reflect those values that we hold dear, and this production really contributes to that conversation.”
Whisler has been trying to get “The Robber Bridegroom” on the Park Hall stage for years.
“Each year, I would throw the script into the consideration pile, and it would always get overlooked by the approval committee,” he said. “Then Mark and Laurie Becker saw the show up north, and were so excited about it that I proposed it again, and the committee saw fit to add it to the schedule for this year.”
The Beckers and their son, Quinn, are the family that performs together. In “The Robber Bridegroom,” Mark is the instrumental music director; Laurie is in the ensemble, and Quinn plays Little Harp, the most gruesome robber on the Natchez Trace.
“Being in an incredibly fun show like this with my family is a blast,” Mark said. “They are both wonderful actors (and people) and it is amazing to share the challenges of bringing a show to life from the pre-production to performance with them. It has been a fantastic family adventure and a lot of fun.”
Bringing that fun to life in the form of song is vocal director Nicki Kerns, who has participated in MCT for years. While Kerns is behind a keyboard for most productions, she found her break-out moment as Rosie in the 2019 run of “Mamma Mia,” and is now leading the cast in learning the rhythm and cadence of a down-home bluegrass score.
“Scott Whisler approached me in 2019 and asked if I’d be interested in helping out with a musical that was one of his all-time favorites, and it turned out to be one I’d never heard of,” Kerns said. “I agreed to take it on, expecting to perform this in September 2020. We ended up with a delay of two-and-a-half years (longest intermission I’ve ever had!) and finally started rehearsing in July.”
The “Robber Bridegroom” is a bawdy, backwoods barn dance and spicy gumbo of tall tales, secret identities, and bald-faced lies. This American fairy tale is set in the mythical backwoods of 19th-century Mississippi Territory, with haunting ballads, country dances and foot-stomping fun.
With the stage of Park Hall transformed into a barn, and populated with enough overalls and straw hats to outfit the Deep South, the cast of “The Robber Bridegroom” is ready to engage with the audience in a completely different way—two ways, actually. The music is a collection of contradance favorites played by a bluegrass quartet, and audience members are invited to arrive half an hour early to join in the fun for a contra-dance lesson with the cast. Additionally, there are several scenes with mature content, making the show inappropriate for those under 16.
Kerns said she is thrilled with the way the cast has shown up for this show.
“They are incredibly talented; their work ethic and flexibility when dealing with casting changes, illness and production snafus remained strong, and as a lifelong musician who never really liked bluegrass music, this show taught me to love it,” she said. “Oh, and I’m married to the stage manager, so it’s been a real treat to work on a show together with him.”
Performances will be at Park Hall in Ben Lomond, 9400 Mill Street, running weekends from Sept. 23 through Oct. 23, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 2pm. General admission is $35; seniors and students are $30. Community night is Sept. 24, when all tickets are two for $35. Tickets are available at mctshows.org, or at the door. Masks are required at all times in the theater.