Alfred Uhry was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936, graduated from Brown University and moved to New York to write plays. He attended a lyrics writing workshop and came to the attention of Frank Loesser who granted him a stipend to work on developing musicals. After a number of unsuccessful musicals, he adapted Welty’s novella and wrote the lyrics. He asked Donald Waldman, with whom he had earlier worked on an unsuccessful musical, to write the music. It was given a workshop production where it was seen by John Houseman at that time the head and founder of the Drama Division at Julliard.
(We will return to Alfred Uhry again as he is the author of Driving Miss Daisy to be presented at SCT in November.)
In 1972 John Houseman had formed a non-profit touring company The Acting Company made up of the graduates of the first class to graduate from Julliard. The company mounted two to three productions a year and presented them in repertory touring the United State. The Acting Company became a permanent organization consisting of new graduates from Julliard and other leading theatre schools touring across the United States.
After securing the rights for The Robber Bridegroom, the Acting Company presented it in summer 1975 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York, and then at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. The Acting Company performed it at the Harkness Theatre in New York for 15 performances in October 1975, before going out on tour. The major roles in that production were Kevin Kline (Jamie), Patti LuPone (Rosamund), Mary Lou Rosatto (Salome). The limited run was so successful that Houseman secured investors to mount a new Broadway production that opened in October 1976 at the Biltmore Theatre. The leading roles were played by Barry Bostwick (Jamie), Rhonda Coullet (Rosamond), Barbara Lang (Salome). Bostwick had become a Broadway leading man being Danny Zuko in the original production of Grease; then Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show. (He later repeated the Majors role in the film version.) For The Robber Bridgroom he won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical in 1977. It ran 145 performances and then went on a national tour. The director was Gerald Freedman and choreographer Donald Saddler.
In 2016 the Roundabout Theatre Company mounted a production of The Robber Bradegroom in its off-Broadway theatre, the Laura Pels. The leading roles were played by Steven Pasquale (Jamie), Ahna O’Reilly (Rosamund), Leslie Kritzer (Salome). The director was Alex Timbers and choreographer Connor Gallagher. Of this production Ben Brantley in the New York Times wrote, [It] “suggests a classic European folk story reimagined by Charles Addams and staged by the Grand Ole Opry.”
In Springfield, Missouri State University’s Tent Theatre has produced The Robber Bridegroom twice: 1994 directed by Jack Parkhurst, and 1978 directed by Dennis Warning.
Dennis Warning graduated from the SMS (MSU) theatre program in 1972. The previous summer in Tent Theatre (the first summer in repertory staging) he played the Narrator in The Apple Tree and in HMS Pinafore he was Sir Joseph Porter—he of “his sisters, and his cousins and his aunts.” By the way Tess Harper was also in that production as one the sisters, cousin, aunts.”
Dennis’s first Broadway production was the 1976 The Robber Bridegroom in which he was cast in the chorus/townspeople. In 1978 Dennis proposed that he return to Tent to direct and choreograph a production of The Robber Bridegroom. On the national tour he had been the male swing, thus knowing all the male choreography. He would meet with the individual who was the female swing, and she would teach him all that choreography. Also, he would speak to Mr. Saddler about the project. In the program we gave credit: “Based on the original choreography of Donald Saddler.”
While Dennis was in rehearsal, I used to slip in the back of the rehearsal space to watch. When he would realize that the cast was not going to get the intricacies of the choreography in the time scheduled for rehearsals, he would figure out how to simplify but keep the essence of a step or move. In those last rehearsals before opening, he would proudly tell me that he had been able to slip that step or move back into the dance. The cast had worked to a level that they were now able to handle it. Discipline with the younger cast members frustrated him. “Why are they just sitting out there, talking? They could be working on their lyrics or dance movements.” He was patient with but set high acting expectations. He explained clearly the acting choices, but let the individuals explore what was happening. The cast obviously “loved” him. A few of the individuals, but unfortunately not most, had little inkling what an experience they were being given. Dennis had a wonderful summer, and friends from New York and former classmates came in to see the production.
Of the 53 seasons of Tent Theatre, I’ve missed seeing only eight productions. Of all those productions, including the 32 I directed, the 1978 The Robber Bridegroom is in my Tent’s all-time top ten favorites
Dennis died in the mid-80s—far too young.
Jamie Lockhart in that Tent production was played by Michael Quinn. He completed both the BA and MA programs in theatre with us. He was admitted to the Ph.D. program at Stanford University. Upon completing it, he took a teaching position at the University of Washington. In the mid-1990s he was diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease. He died leaving a wife and two young children.
Dennis and Michael, gone, but still remembered.
May 20, 2017
- Correction: The Robber Bridegroom (1976) opened for eight weeks at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, before moving to Broadway. No tour followed after the Broadway production closed.
- The 1976 cast went into the recording studio and a vinyl LP original cast album was released. Barry Bostwick was the producer. When the CD of the LP album was released, it had six bonus tracks. It seems that a “story theatre” version of the musical was discussed and additional songs were written. It never was developed., but the songs were recorded at the time of the original cast album. Two of the tracks are solos performances by Dennis Warning.
- The largest role performed by Warning on Broadway was Herman in a revival production of The Most Happy Fella (1979 with Giorgio Tozzi). Herman sings “Standing on the Corner” as part of the quartet, and “Big D” opposite Cleo. Unfortunately the production did not last long on Broadway--59 performances. It was videorecorded by PBS on the out-of-town tour on the way to Broadway. It was shown at least twice in 1980. A commercial release was never made, but DVD copies exist. If you hunt around, you might find one.