Every so often, a classic piece of theater, potentially overlooked by contemporary audiences, is revived at a grand scale with a few changes to its story. Brigadoon, now playing until December 23 at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Festival Theatre, is one of those pieces.
Brigadoon is a musical that tells the story of two American tourists, Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas, who stumble upon a mysterious Scottish village named Brigadoon while on a hunting trip. They soon discover that Brigadoon only appears for one day every hundred years due to a magical spell. As Tommy falls in love with a local woman named Fiona, he must grapple with the choice between a life in the enchanted village or returning to the modern world.
Many Buffalonians might be familiar with the 1947 film, starring Gene Kelly, and featuring the classic songs “Almost like being in Love,” “Heather on the Hill,” and “Waiting for my Dearie.” However, the stage production of Brigadoon does differ slightly from the classic film.
“Brian Hill, who is a wonderful Canadian music theater artist, director, [and] performer… with the permission of the Lerner and Lowe estate, which will tell you a lot about how well regarded he is, was able to make some really clever and significant changes to the book,” shared Glynis Leyshon, director of Shaw’s Brigadoon.
Leyshon is a celebrated Canadian director, whose work encompasses all forms of theater: plays, musicals, and operas. “I find that I have to be inspired by the source material. That’s where I live and breathe, and that’s where my work comes from…I have to connect to the source material. I have to find my heart and soul in the work, and find a way that I think I can give life, in the 21st century, to that vision, whenever that original vision was created. But always for me, it starts with the work itself. What was the playwright’s, what was the librettist’s, what was the composer’s intention? What are they interested in? I do a lot of research because that’s something I really enjoy. I find a lot of visual references from the period of the work and then gradually, gradually, the vision that I want to share with an audience comes into fruition.”
Leyshon was inspired by Hill’s updated book. “The minute I read it, I went ‘Oh ok’. This means something to me now. Now I understand my path… it wasn’t just about editing. It wasn’t just about making it tighter.. [Hill] really did some very important things in terms of the spirit of the piece. The place of women in the piece was obviously significant for me, but most most importantly as a Scot, as someone born in Scotland, [Hill] made it that the idea of Brigadoon was not because the village wanted to escape evil witches, which was the fairy tale aspect that Lerner was so attracted to in the original, but rather made it very specific. It worked exactly correctly to the time and the era and that, of course, is the time of the Highland Clearances…that was when the Scots Highlanders supported Bonnie Prince Charlie against the odds and were massacred… They were driven off their land. They were not allowed to gather, they were not allowed to speak their tongue, their Gaelic. They were not allowed their clan signatures and tartans and so on… And so the idea of making a covenant to only reappear once every hundred years seemed to me to make a lot more sense than getting away from some baddies. And it seemed to speak very much to many of the issues we’re facing today of cultural genocide and so on, so I thought it was a very clever, very astute move on Brian’s part, so that became our way in, that became what we were interested in doing.”
However, the updated story and book embrace the fairy tale feeling of Brigadoon. This opulent production with incredible scenery, costumes, and choreography, will certainly have audiences smiling from ear to ear, enveloped by the incredible singing and live music played by a full orchestra.
“If you love music and incredibly clever lyrics, if you enjoy the idea of positivity, if you are, at heart, a believer that love will triumph, if you like Lerner himself, needed to heal (after he was in World War 2, and obviously I think Tommy Albright is a very personal creation for him). I think anyone who loves love should love Brigadoon,” shared Leyshon.
Brigadoon plays at Canada’s Shaw Festival Theatre until December 23. Tickets are available here.