Kelli O'Hara, Patrick Wilson, Stephanie J. Block, and Robert Fairchild's calves star in Lerner and Loewe's musical at New York City Center.
Brigadoon, Lerner & Loewe's 1947 musical about a magical town that reappears out of the Scottish fog once every hundred years, is the kind of show that New York City Center does best. Luxuriously produced, this 2017 gala concert presentation, running through November 19, features a cast of 35 (including separate vocal and dance ensembles), an orchestra of 30 playing the original orchestrations by Ted Royal, and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon that makes our hearts collectively gallop. As lush as the production is conceptually, though, this Brigadoon, headlined by oddly tentative performances from Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson, is a little more of a bore than the ecstatic delight we want it to be.
Wilson plays Tommy Albright, an American visiting the Scottish highlands with his pal, Jeff Douglas (Aasif Mandvi). Together, they stumble upon a tiny village that doesn't appear on any of their maps: Brigadoon. Its citizens are preparing for the wedding of Jean MacLaren (Sara Esty) to Charlie Dalrymple (Ross Lekites). The wedding is happening much to the chagrin of the dour Harry Beaton (Robert Fairchild), who believes Jean is the love of his life. As Tommy and Jeff's day in Brigadoon progresses, Tommy finds himself falling for Jean's older sister, Fiona (O'Hara). But the townspeople have a secret, and when Tommy finds it out, he must decide whether to commit to a life in the fog, or return to his swanky, lonely American existence.
This is the seventh staging of Brigadoon to play City Center over the course of its history, and Wheeldon's physical production looks right at home on the venue's vast stage. Rob Berman's splendid deluxe orchestra sits in its usual upstage perch, while 59 Productions provides an unobtrusive bare-bones set that largely consists of attractive impressionistic projections that evoke the Scottish countryside. Emily Rebholz's costumes are handsome contemporary evocations of 18th-century attire. Ken Billington's lighting complements just about everything and everyone onstage.
Yes, Brigadoon is pretty to look at, and even prettier to listen to, especially when you have a soprano as magnificent as O'Hara's and a tenor as attractive as Wilson's. But Wheeldon, who also directs, is more focused on creating images than telling a story. The acting suffers and the pacing needs to be picked up so the show feels as fizzy as an Irn-Bru. O'Hara and Wilson are too timid in their roles. Stephanie J. Block fares better with a deliciously funny turn as Meg, a painfully dated character whose greatest ambition is to find a husband. Mandvi is perfectly cantankerous as Jeff, whom Meg forcibly tries to woo in the number "The Love of My Life."
In his first New York theatrical role since An American in Paris, Fairchild, who left the New York City Ballet this fall, is one of the production's undeniable highlights. Creating a dark, dour character solely through movement, he dances Wheeldon's intense, balletic choreography with expressive sensuousness. His work is undeniably thrilling.
The other highlight comes toward the end of the first act and is worth the price of admission alone. O'Hara and Wilson find their comfort zone in the show's most famous song, "Almost Like Being in Love," raising their voices and sinking their teeth into this gold-standard hit in a way that lucky audience members will remember long after their day in Brigadoon ends and the show recedes into the fog of memory. It's almost too good to be true.