The very size of the thing partially explains why we do not see this
robust crowd-pleaser more often. That along with the deep artistic
demands of the singing, especially the soprano romantic lead Fiona
(beautifully fulfilled by Emily Beth Brockway) and many of the Agnes de
Mille dance numbers. Certainly Frederick Loewe’s score, mixing faux
Gaelicism (“I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean”) and 1940s pop lyricism
(“Almost Like Being In Love”) stands up well next to the duo’s more
frequently performed hits, My Fair Lady and Camelot. It has long been a favorite of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who pillaged it gleefully for Phantom of the Opera. Note especially quotations from Brigadoon’s “Come to Me, Bend to Me” in “Music of the Night.”
Surely, no one enters the theater without knowing the general premise of Brigadoon, the
dreamy village that reappears every century so as not to be
contaminated by mundane daily events. The very title has become a part
of the language. To encounter the show afresh in Jim Bumgardner’s
perceptive direction is to realize that the storyline is no mere
boy-meets-girl and gives up all. Lerner’s source for the show’s book is
Friedrich Gerstacker’s philosophical allegory of German idealism, Germelshausen.
A Broadway musical with a German setting was unthinkable right after
World War II, but after the slaughter of 40 million in the war, a
romance that promised an escape to an ideal world was mighty seductive,
even if it required a steady diet of haggis.
To get us into Brigadoon’s head, Bumgardner reshapes the
dynamics of the two American hunters who discover the village in the
opening scene. The romantic Tommy Albright (Peter Carrier) is wide-eyed
and embracing, while the comic Jeff Douglas (Dustin Charles) cynically
rejects everything. Romantic leads commonly have comic sidekicks, but
here, especially with the weight given Charles’ Jeff, there’s a real
dialogue of values.
Carrier is a handsome blond hunk who sings wonderfully and was thus perfectly cast as Joe Hardy in last summer’s Damn Yankees. Charles, on the other hand, is a heavier hitter, a company favorite with a half-dozen leads and a nomination from the Syracuse New Times
Syracuse Area Live Theater awards. He also serves as the dialect coach
for the company and comes equipped with a wicked sense of comic timing.
Charles’ Jeff never upstages the romance but brings unprecedented
resonance when he’s left alone in a New York City bar at the end.
Quite apart from the book’s German origins, composer Loewe never
abandoned his roots in Viennese operetta, even when mimicking other
national styles, such as the English in My Fair Lady or the Westerners in Paint Your Wagon. We hear more echoes of operetta in Brigadoon than
in any other post-war musical in the repertory, starting with the
“Vendors’ Call” and “Down on MacConnachy Square” in the first act. And
for all the Scottish flavor of “Waitin’ for My Dearie,” Fiona’s first
solo, calls for a soprano with Viennese sparkle. The porcelain-skinned,
flame-haired Emily Beth Brockway journeyed all the way up from North
Carolina to make a perfect visual and vocal fit in this role.
Brigadoon’s expansive book means that the musical treasures
can be shared generously, even with characters who aren’t terribly well
developed dramatically. Striking among these are Fiona’s adorable
blonde dancing sister, Jean MacLaren (Crystal Gramkee), and her
sportive intended, Charlie Dalrymple (Brendon North). Charlie’s big
production number, “I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean,” employs the
distinctive “Scotch snap” (a short note on a beat, followed by a longer
one until the next note) and feels like a folk song. Cynthia Halpin’s
heart-pounding choreography with the ensemble marks an emotional
highlight of the entire show. Charlie’s second solo, “Come to Me, Bend
to Me,” so admired by Andrew Lloyd Webber, evokes the Scottish art
songs of Robert Burns and his contemporaries.
Given that Alan Jay Lerner’s book stresses moral choice, the female comic in Brigadoon is condemned to frustration. Unlike her probable model, Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, Meg
Brockie (Caitlin Sams), the strumpet-soubrette, cannot get her man,
winning as she is with the audience. Jeff resists her luscious
temptations. So Sams’ Meg, who sings with the heaviest Scottish accent,
comes to us in solos, “The Love of My Life” and “My Mother’s Wedding
Day.” While these are not the numbers from the show most people
remember, Sams’ saucy persona turns them both into winners.
For the non-musical role of Mr. Lundie, the local schoolteacher who
has to explain the cockamamie story of how the village of Brigadoon
became a time-traveling miracle, director Bumgardner lured Cortland
Repertory’s board member Kim Hubbard. Born in Cortland, Hubbard has
extensive national credits as a performer and author but is fondly
remembered locally for the title role (with much darker hair) in Glenn
Allen Smith’s Chester and Grace (1991). That sellout world premiere dealt with the American Tragedy murder
case, part of which took place in the CRT Pavilion in Little York. Here
he must summon up all available gravity to make Lundie’s story weighty
rather than whimsical.
Notable in smaller roles are scowling Sean Patrick Gibbons as Harry
Beaton, the disappointed lover who wants out of the miraculous bargain.
Kind of a blue-eyed Rufus Sewell, Gibbons also leads the sword dance.
Kaitlyn Frotten as Maggie Anderson brings a suddenly poignant change of
tone in the funeral dance.
Even though there are few trees in the Scottish Highlands, Jason
Lajka’s wonderfully useful set allows for places to hide and to escape
in a small space. Costumer Jimmy Johansmeyer paints the stage with
color, careful to respect contrasting tartans for different families.
And in the pit Markus Hauck leads seven players through floor-thumping
dances and lush orchestration. He briefly allows clarinetist Devon
Lepore to leave the ensemble and skirl the bagpipes at the funeral.
This production runs through Aug. 14. See Times Table for information.