THE BASICS: Lerner and Loewe’s Scottish musical/fantasy, from 1947, is a tentpole production at the Festival Theatre this season at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The cast of 26 (!) is directed by Glynis Leyshon. Musical direction is by veteran Paul Sportelli, who also conducts the pit orchestra of fifteen. BRIGADOON plays in repertory through October 13th. The show, with its single intermission, runs approximately two hours and twenty minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place (mainly) in the Scottish highlands, one very special day in 1946. “Two weary hunters”, Americans Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas, lost, discover a strange hamlet, not on the map, and wander in. In short order they become involved with the very curious townspeople, who appear to be from another time. Tommy falls in love with one of them, Fiona. The fateful day also includes a wedding, a death, and the chase for a would-be fugitive. The magical town has a secret, of course, and Tommy and Fiona must decide, after just a few hours together, if their relationship is one for the ages…
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: One of the earlier “golden age” Broadway musicals, BRIGADOON, even with the revised book by Brian Hill, is something of a curious choice. While blessed with a strong, melodic score (Thank you, Fritz Loewe!), the piece just feels antiquated, looking back nostalgically toward operetta rather than forward in any way. Attempts to emphasize the wartime/postwar elements of the tale don’t add much relevancy, in my view. Moreover, the script (even this revised one) is shot through with an old-fashioned sexism that today’s more enlightened theatregoers will likely find troubling, if not overtly offensive. “Waitin’ For My Dearie” is right up there with “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “I Enjoy Being a Girl” in this regard!
The other adjective that comes to mind after my recent Briga-viewing is “sentimental”. The story, built upon what is virtually a love-at-first-sight, is, well, gushingly romantic. In an age where romance seems to be in dreadfully short supply, this may not be such a bad thing. An unabashed romantic, I’ll admit that I was able to “buy in” to all the mush, experiencing a spine-tingling chill during a late romantic duet, and going all misty at the final curtain. (All right, one tear, just one!) If you too are of a romantic temperament, take note. This may be just the show for you!
Technically, the show is first rate, with dazzling sets, wonderful special visual effects, beautiful costumes, and some rousing dancing. In the latter department, the men’s solo dances at the wedding, over crossed swords, are a particular standout.
The cast members appear to have been selected principally for their vocal prowess. The one exception is veteran Peter Millard, who is so perfect as Andrew McClaren, father of the bride, that I would forgive him practically anything! George Krissa’s straightforward, straight-arrow Tommy seems right out of 1947. As the cynical, wise-cracking friend, Jeff, Mike Nadajewski also gets a chance to shine. I felt as though I was watching a young Alan Alda. Alexis Gordon brings an exquisite set of pipes to the role of Fiona, Tommy’s sudden love, but failed to fully win me. Redheaded Kristi Frank (who pairs off with Jeff) makes a cute, saucy Meg Brockie, but she is no belter, and has been encouraged to sing her two excellent numbers with a speed that leads to the loss of some fine Lerner lyrics. Some of casting choices are… less felicitous. Brigadoon is, after all, a tiny Scottish village in the middle of nowhere, where the biggest problem would probably be a limited gene pool. Not so this time out! Looks like this is something we are all going to have to get used to, and perhaps we all will, over time. It’s been a tough transition so far, for me. I will say that the entire cast, and a couple of petite ensemble members in particular, throw themselves into the proceedings with real abandon!
IN SUM: A sumptuous revival of a beloved classic, BRIGADOON is alive with song, color, theater magic and old-fashioned romance. I do have my issues (see above) but the show has much to offer, and I would give this one serious consideration.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!