BWW Reviews: BRIGADOON Delivers Enchanting Summer Musical Spectacle
BWW Reviews: "Brigadoon" delivers enchanting summer musical spectacle
Goodman Theatre's production of Lerner and Loewe's 1947 musical "Brigadoon" lovingly pays homage to the tradition of classic American musical theatre while also retaining a sense of exuberance and delight. Helmed by director and choreographer Rachel Rockwell, this production does not shy away from spectacle and largely has the talent to back it up. The show preserves Lerner and Loewe's lush music and lyrics with an updated book by Brian Hill that provides an even sense of pacing and storyline.
For those unfamiliar, "Brigadoon" recounts the experiences of 1946 American travelers Tommy Albright (Kevin Earley) and Jeff Douglas (Rod Thomas) who have arrived in Scotland for the former's bachelor party. While on a hunting excursion, Jeff and Tommy become lost in the woods and stumble upon the enchanted town of Brigadoon. Once there, Tommy strikes up a romance with local Fiona MacLaren (Jennie Sophia, a true triple threat), while the comic Meg Brockie (Maggie Portman) attempts to seduce Jeff. The catch? Brigadoon only appears for one day every hundred years - the townspeople reside in the Scotland of 1746, and no one can ever leave. The musical unfolds on just one magical day in Brigadoon, with a few more somber touches amid all the joy.
Now considered a classic American musical, perhaps the most eagerly awaited change for the Goodman's production of "Brigadoon" is Brian Hill's updated book. And while I am largely unfamiliar with "Brigadoon"'s original book, Hill has peppered the new book with some jokes and turns-of-phrase in line with the parlance of twenty-first century audiences. An early example comes in the initial exchange between protagonists Tommy and Jeff in the show's first scene: fresh from the war, the two men are happy to have a chance to relax. Yet Tommy still dreads his upcoming nuptials to rich heiress Jane. On that note, Jeff remarks, "A war is just like a marriage. Except one has less casualties." Hill has inserted similar quips throughout "Brigadoon," yet also nicely handles the show's many more tender moments. Hill's updating seems appropriate and provides a true framework to "Brigadoon", yet does not compromise the timelessness of the show.
In terms of set design and costuming, this production of "Brigadoon" also benefits from a modern perspective with remarkable special effects and great attention to detail. But again, these core elements seem in keeping with the nature of the musical and truly elevate this "Brigadoon" to a spectacular level. Kevin Depinet's set design brings to life the town of Brigadoon in full glory, replete with ornate backdrops and a charming town square. Depinet also makes clever use of transparent curtains throughout the show, on which are projected images that add an extra dimension to the stage's appearance. Mara Blumenfeld's costumes seem right in the spirit of the show. This is particularly true when it comes to the traditional Scottish costumes used in the wedding sequence of Jean, Fiona's sister, and her fiancé, Charlie. The entire cast of "Brigadoon" marches out in tartan costumes, a different pattern for each of the show's families. The hard work and detail on these costumes becomes plain to see, and the outfits feel like a "Brigadoon" signature.
In the Goodman's "Brigadoon", choreography joins the other production elements as a true storytelling method. Taking inspiration from original "Brigadoon" choreographer Agnes de Mille, Rockwell skillfully uses the choreography to have the characters convey their emotions through dance. The dance interludes in "Brigadoon" feel not like interruptions in the musical numbers but rather as seamless parts of the whole. Rockwell's choreography also provides a strong sense of visual delight and excitement, while also showcasing the gracefulness of the dancer's line. This is some of the best musical theater choreography I have seen lately, and Rockwell truly recalls the tradition of making dance an integral part of the musical's storyline - as was the case with Rodgers' and Hammerstein's 1943 hit "Oklahoma!," which also had choreography by de Mille and gave rise to this convention.
The cast of "Brigadoon" deftly handles the demands of this production and do not disappoint across any of the dimensions. This production has strong actors, dancers, and singers - though not all cast members are equally gifted on all three fronts. As Fiona, however, Jennie Sophia seems the true triple threat. Not only does she fully commit to her role and dance with grace, but she also has an astounding voice. She is clearly one of the strongest vocalists in this ensemble. Sophia makes her high notes seem effortless, and she truly embodies the role of the young heroine and sweet-voice ingénue. While an incredibly gifted dancer - certainly one of the best in the cast - Olivia Renteria gives a less nuanced acting performance as Fiona's younger sister, Jean. Renteria has one of the most emotional solo dance numbers in the show, but her acting does not convey as much. And as Fiona's love interest and the show's central protagonist, Kevin Earley gives a competent performance as Tommy. Like Sophia, Earley has strong vocals but his acting feels a little flatter. As Jeff Douglas, Rod Thomas is quick with his words and entertaining. As the more comic characters of Meg Brockie and Charlie Dalrymple, Maggie Portman and Jordan Brown seem to steal the show. Sprightly redhead Portman fully gives herself into the role of the seductive and hilarious Brockie, and she has a powerful voice that lends itself well to her solo numbers. As Charlie, Brown exudes stage presence and gives a performance that feels over-the-top and yet still genuine. He's also quite a good dancer and plays up the physicality of his role.
The Goodman's "Brigadoon" truly intertwines all the elements of musical theater to revive this classic show and sweep audiences up into the story. I can't help but feel that there's some traditional musical theater magic in this production - with just a bit of contemporary flare.