BWW Review: BRIGADOON at Shaw Festival
The mystical land of BRIGADOON has emerged once again at Niagara on the Lake's Shaw Festival, and the now rarely produced musical still brings with it a sense of hope wrapped around Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's hauntingly beautiful lyrics and score. And while re-engaging with this Golden Age of Broadway classic brings with it a sense of familiarity, injecting new life into the work written in 1947 presents some obstacles.
Lerner and Loewe were the masters behind such hits as CAMELOT and MY FAIR LADY, but BRIGADOON came before those and was their first Broadway hit. Mr. Lerner is credited with the original book and lyrics, but a revised book by Brian Hill is being used. Two Americans are hunting in the highlands of Scotland when they happen upon a mysterious town that doesn't show up on their map. The inhabitants are from another era, frozen in time by the town's preacher in hope's of preserving all that is good in Brigadoon, and allowing it's escape from the trials of the outside world. The American's too are escaping the effects of World War II, as well as one's own impending marriage. Hill has dusted off the script, inserting a few wittier jokes, but the basic premise happily remains unchanged.
With it's delightful score and colorful pageantry, it is curious as to why BRIGADOON has fallen off the radar of many theatre companies. Broadway has not seen a revival in almost forty years, and that one lasted a meager 133 performances. It's underlying themes of escapism, being an outsider looking for acceptance, and unbridled love certainly can be appreciated in any era, but modern audiences may look at it's fanciful structure as far fetched .
Director Glynis Leyshon has approached the work in traditional fashion. Her assembled cast of actors mostly serve the drama well, but one hoped to find more complexity in characters that could be cartoonish. The vocal capabilities of many in the large cast were often weak and inconsistent. Loewe's lush score includes such hits as "The Heather on the Hill," "Almost Like Being in Love," and "Come to Me, Bend to Me." And while there were no sour notes to speak of, the depth of the music often failed to soar.
After a somewhat anemic opening number ("Down on MacConnachy Square"), the action quickens with entrance of the lovely Fiona, played by Alexis Gordon. The town is preparing for the wedding of her sister Jean (Madelyn Kriese). Ms. Gordon is fully up to the challenges of the role, with a strong soprano voice and forthright personality. The two Americans who stumble upon Brigadoon include George Krissa as Tommy Albright and his wise cracking buddy Jeff, played by Mike Nadajewski. Tommy falls instantly in love with Fiona, despite having a fiancee waiting in New York. Mr. Krissa is credible as the smitten stranger full of all the emotions of a new found love, but his small voice failed to match Gordon's in their duets, and his final soliloquy "There But For You Go I" failed to pack a punch.
Nadajewski finds all the right comedic timing as the ever-practical best friend. His presence ensured laughs at every turn. He is paired with the town harlot Meg Brockie (Kristi Frank), which assured for some great physical comedy. Meg is given some of the wittiest lyrics Lerner has ever written in her two comedic numbers, and while Ms. Frank acted and danced with conviction, her singing did not match up with a role that begs for Broadway belter to contrast the lyricism in the other female characters.
Matt Nethersole is Jean's energetic fiance Charlie. The two danced spritely and Mr. Nethersole oozed the joy of young love. But the wedding nuptials soon are darkened by the brooding Harry Beaton (Travis Seetoo) who believed Jean should have been his. His threat to leave Brigadoon would mean the ending of the magical town.
In another modification from the original, the town sage Mr. Lundie now becomes Mistress Lundie- played by the wonderful Patty Jamieson. She explains the story of Brigadoon to the Americans and it is up to Tommy to decide if he will stay or abandon his new love for a loveless marriage back home.
Set design by Pam Johnson relies heavily on the fairy tale influences of the story, but could border on kitsch with the miniature houses of the town looking right out of a Hans Christian Andersen tale. Some fascinating projections by Corwin Ferguson had the audience sit up with delight as a stag scurried across the stage,a map of the town magically appeared, and Brigadoon appears out of the mist. Sue LePage has designed lovely costumes that reference the many tartans of the region.
Choreography by Linda Garneau was at it's finest during the infamous Sword Dance that serves as entertainment for the wedding festivities. In a show whose original choreographer was Agnes DeMille, it is obvious the dance tells a large part of the story. Some lovely references to DeMille's work can be found in the "Come to Me, Bend to Me" duet and the solo dance by Genny Sermonia in Act II.
Music direction by Paul Sportelli was accurate, with some slower tempi than expected at times. He led a strong orchestra that sounded lush and well rehearsed.
BRIGADOON plays at the Festival Theatre of Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario through October 13, 2019. Contact shawfest.com for more information