A lavish production mines the Scottish Highlands for love and magic.
In the first moments of the Goodman Theatre's lush, expansive, and deeply romantic revival of Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's rarely produced musical Brigadoon, the voices waft over the audience with a blend as seamless as vapor. It's a transcendent auditory moment. And it sets the bar for all that follows.
In the past nine years, Brigadoon has been revived only once in a capable Chicago production at the Marriott, Lincolnshire. In this new revival, under Rachel Rockwell's direction and the invaluable musical direction of Roberta Duchak, the cloying sentiment (mostly) drops away. What's left is a full-throttle ode to joy, a striking reminder to live life to its fullest.
The plot isn't especially complex: Tommy Albright (Kevin Earley) whose Scotland hunting trip with best friend Jeff Douglass (Rob Thomas, who stepped into the role at the last minute, replacing Curt Bouril) takes a turn for the dreamy when the pair stumble upon a village that isn't on any map and is home to a strange group of villagers who look like they're dressed up for a Renaissance Faire.
It turns out Tommy and Jeff have found Brigadoon, a place under a time-trippy enchantment that has the place permanently set in the mid-1700s and only appears once every 100 years. This protective spell (or "miracle" according to soberly wise intonations of town elder Mr. Lundie) ensures that the troubles of the outside world never reach the innocent folk of Brigadoon or violate its misty, heather-strewn postcard-perfect pastoral wonderland.
While in Brigadoon, Tommy falls in love with local lassie Fiona MacLauren (Jennie Sophia). Dramatic tension ensues as Tommy tries to figure out whether he should return home to sleek, sophisticated New York City and his equally sleek, sophisticated fiancé, or chuck it all and disappear into the vapor as a citizen of Brigadoon. Complicating matters is the intertwined story of Brigadoonian Harry Beaton (Rhett Guter), a heartbroken villager who would rather leave Brigadoon than watch Jean (Olivia Rentaria), the woman he loves, marry another man. Under normal circumstances, skipping town wouldn't be a big deal for anybody but Harry. However, the "miracle" of Brigadoon comes with the caveat that everybody stays put. If anyone leaves, the whole place will die, along with its bewitched-yet-down-to-earth inhabitants. On a lighter note, the rom-com subplot follows Jeff and his attempts to fend off the advances of the (underwritten) town sexpot Meg (Maggie Portman, playing the lusty minx to the rafters).
As Tommy, Earley starts out with little whatever ideals and passions he had before his tour of duty in World War II. Back from the war, he is a husk, a man who set off to fight the good fight and returned home hollow-eyed and deeply disillusioned at man's infinite capacity for cruelty. The eventual revival of heart and soul is predictable, but it is also powerful. It doesn't hurt that Earley's got a voice to swoon for, at times delicate as gossamer ("Almost Like Being in Love", his alternately soaring and ethereal duet with Sophia) and others as broad and expansive ("There But for You Go I"). Thomas proves to be not only a quick study, but also a gifted comic actor as he portrays the wry, wise-cracking, innately cynical Jeff. Watching him give the side-eye to his lovestruck pal is one of Brigadoon's many distinctive pleasures.
Fiona provides the unswerving moral compass of the musical, with Sofia radiating an innate goodness that lights up the stage. Her steadfast belief in true love and common decency never once reads as hokey or naïve, but rather as a genuine state of mind and heart that could chip through the armor of the most hardened cynic.
Though the plot sounds a bit sappy, the real miracle is that Brigadoon is anything but. Rockwell crafts a production that celebrates unabashed romance without turning it into syrup. With a revised book by Brian Hill and new orchestrations by Duchak, Brigadoon makes wrenchingly clear that miracle or not, you can never fully insulate yourself from heartbreak, violence, and unhappiness. Bad things happen. Often. Nobody is exempt. The best we can do, according to the trenchant wisdom of Brigadoon, is try to take each day as the gift that it is, remembering that even in the midst of hate, corruption, and crushed dreams, kindness and hope can shine through.
Rockwell has choreographed the piece exquisitely, with a mix of traditional Scottish dance (the ebullient "I'll Go Home" with Bonnie Jean) and an Agnes DeMille-inspired blend of ballet and modern dance (the emotionally charged "Funeral Dance" performed by Katie Spelman). This is a dance that furthers rather than interrupts the plot, with each pas de deux and frolicking jeté enhancing the story. Guter's inconsolable Harry Beaton is particularly adept at deepening his character with movement; his torment is never so evident as it is during the thrillingly precise Sword Dance, when a bottomless wellspring of rage and sorrow comes leaping to the surface.
Brigadoon also looks sumptuous, from Mara Blumendeld's elaborate, tartan-rich costumes, to Kevin Depinet's lavish scenescape of heather, hills, and mist, to lighting designer Aaron Spivey's atmospheric lighting. Under the baton of Valerie Maze, Lerner and Loewe's memorable score (with additional arrangements by Duchak) sounds gorgeous.
Brigadoon is not edgy or especially groundbreaking. It doesn't need to be. It's simply wonderful.