Brigadoon Awakens after 34 Year Slumber at Goodman Theatre in a Magnificent Revival
Reviewed By: James Murray
I have never been a big fan of Lerner and Lowe’s Brigadoon, which I considered to be one of their weakest scores with a long, dull book. Not to mention that the original choreography by the legendary Agnes Demille needed to be considerably trimmed.
The main reason that I decided to venture out to see this revival is that it is in the hands of Rachel Rockwell who is one of the most talented directors of musicals. I am glad that I went; for when the curtain went up, I was engaged in a flawless production with a great revised book and score.
Rachel Rockwell received permission from both the Lerner and Lowe estates to clean up and revise the book of Brigadoon, whittling it down to the two main themes of the show; the transformational power of true love and believing in miracles when one has lost all faith in the world. The show now has a 2 hour and 10 minute running time which includes the intermission! For those who have suffered through the original production in all its tedium Brian Hill’s revised book is a godsend and he, musical director Roberta Duchak and orchestrator Josh Clayton, along with Rockwell have truly revived a musical that had landed in the graveyard of seldom produced shows into a powerful, gorgeous and hugely moving Brigadoon for the 21st century.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect for the current revival of Brigadoon. Originally penned in 1946 just as we were coming out of a major war, its message of keeping one’s faith in the darkest of times and believing in the transformational power of love captured the imaginations of the public. Today we are still engaged in wars, have lost faith in our government and become cynical about finding true love.
For those who do not know the story of Brigadoon it revolves around two Americans in 1946 on a trip in Scotland who stumble onto a magical town from the eighteenth century that only appears for one day every one hundred years. The miracle came about through the power of one of the town members, tired or war and destruction, who makes the wish that causes the town to only appear every 100 years so that it may retain an innocence from the horrors and destruction of the outside world.
One of the Americans, Tommy Albright has lost his faith in love and has agreed to marry a New York millionairess when he meets Fiona MacLaren, a beautiful girl who awakens feelings in him that had lain dormant, much like Brigadoon itself. The rest of the story revolves around their love story and his decision to stay or go back to his old life.
Much of the success of the Goodman’s Brigadoon rests in the laps of its designers whose job it is to create the world of the play. Kevin Depinet’s set and Aaron Spivey’s lighting designs provide the show with an almost dreamlike, ethereal feeling allowing the scenes to morph seamlessly into one another. When the town appears it literally appears before your eyes out of the fog. The uses of projections, masterfully designed by Shawn Sagady, are paramount in creating the magical landscape of Brigadoon and allowing the pacing of the show to move quickly and effortlessly (another criticism of mine with other cumbersome sets). This Brigadoon has an ethereal, spun glass like quality that many other productions miss.
I have used the term flawless in describing the Goodman’s production and this is especially true of the casting; there is not a weak link in the show. As an audience member one sense’s a great pride and achievement coming over the footlights and you cannot help but get swept up and pulled into their joy.
While everyone is strong the standouts in this Brigadoon are Maggie Portman as the sex-starved Meg Brockie (who played this role in the 2011 Light Opera Works production in Evanston), Jordan Brown’s wonderfully charming and exuberant Charlie Dalrymple, Rhett Guter’s brooding Harry Beaton and the superb Roger Mueller as the town leader and teacher, Mr. Lundie. Rod Thomas’ Jeff Douglas has the sharp comic timing and sarcasm needed to make this role really pop. I have seen this role fade into the midst in less talented hands. He provides the perfect foil for Tommy Albright.
The real stars of Rockwell’s Brigadoon are rightly the 2 leads, Jennie Sophia’s Fiona MacLaren (she also performed with Portman in the same role for Light Opera Works) and Kevin Early’s Tommy Albright. The two not only possess a strong chemistry with each other (crucial to the success of any production of Brigadoon) but also have truly astonishing vocal abilities and range and, when singing together, voices that blend so beautifully they make the songs, and your soul, soar. When they performed one of the most memorable songs in the show on opening night “Almost like Being in Love” they literally stopped the show for a full minute and had to wait for the applause to stop before going on (a rarity today). These are two star turns.
In past productions of this show I have never become engaged in the love story of Fiona and Tommy. In Rockwell’s masterfully directed production I did. They had the audience in the palm of their hands from the first moment they sang together until the last when people began applauding before the curtain had even come down. The final moments of Brigadoon will move even the ones with the hardest hearts and make them believe in the transformational power of true love. This Brigadoon is magical, elusive, sparkling and deeply moving and one that I hope will have a continued (maybe Broadway?) and highly successful future. The Goodman has achieved something monumental and commendable here. It is not to be missed and will probably become one of the hottest tickets in town. If you are a romantic this is the perfect date night and will remind you to cherish and hold on to the one true love (like Fiona and Tommy) that comes along in a lifetime.
Brigadoon plays through August 17, 2014 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. For tickets and more information visit the GoodmanTheatre.com