Chicago Theater Review: BRIGADOON (Goodman)

by Lawrence Bommer on July 8, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

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MUSICALS LIKE THIS OCCUR ONCE EVERY 100 YEARS

Richard Strimer (Ensemble), William Angulo (Ensemble), Michael Aaron Lindner (Angus MacGuffie) and Drew Nellessen (Ensemble) in BRIGADOON at the Goodman Theatre.What won’t some do to flee the ravages and anguish of war? In 1947, when Brigadoon confirmed the mutual genius of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, timing was everything: A second global conflict had just ended, leaving in its wake postwar angst and searing doubts that the millions of deaths had made no difference. Hoping that faith could move mountains, the authors harkened back to an old German fairy-tale motif to create the legend of Brigadoon, a Scottish town that created its own miracle in 1746 (the year of the disastrous Battle of Culloden). Rather than carry the guilt and pain of a fratricidal slaughter such as the Jacobite rebellion, a secessionist Highland hamlet would disappear into the mists, only to reappear for one day every 100 years. If any villager leaves the town during this rare and rationed day, Brigadoon would disappear forever, the miracle becoming a curse.

Malachi Squires (Ensemble), Rhett Guter (Harry Beaton), William Angulo (Ensemble) and Jamy Meek (Ensemble) in BRIGADOON at the Goodman Theatre.The mystery of this “hundred-year event” still casts a spell, especially given that the U.S. has waged perpetual war since the arrival of this unashamedly romantic and escapist Broadway beauty. Goodman Theatre’s ravishing production is the first major revival of this Golden Age musical in more than three decades (the last really big one was in 1980, with recent Chicagoland versions mounted by Light Opera Works and Marriott Theatre).

Jamy Meek (Ensemble), Maggie Portman (Meg Brockie) and Richard Strimer (Ensemble) in BRIGADOON at the Goodman Theatre.Worth the wait of a hundred years, or more accurately, 66, Rachel Rockwell’s radiant, reverent recreation comes complete with a revised libretto by Brian Hill, an orchestra of 13, lush new orchestrations, and a sterling cast of 28 who literally fling themselves into every reel and sing up a Caledonian storm. A great show just found its dream home.

Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) and Jennie Sophia (Fiona MacLaren) in BRIGADOON at the Goodman Theatre.The 140-minute story remains a wry mix of unalloyed romance and a cynicism worthy of the Algonquin Round Table. On an expedition into the Highland wilds, two Americans, Tommy Albright (golden tenor Kevin Earley, alas more convincing when he sings than speaks) and his wisecracking, sardonic buddy Jeff Douglas (Rod Thomas, all but channeling Oscar Levant) stumble into this once-a-century resurrection act. Mired in an unhappy engagement back home, dreamer Tommy unexpectedly finds a strange stability in this transient town. His quest for redemption and reality is anchored in his sudden love for the lovely lassie Fiona MacLaren (an enchanting Jennie Sophia).

Rod Thomas (Jeff Douglas) and Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) in BRIGADOON at the Goodman Theatre.Jeff, who just wants a rest (but not Brigadoon-long), finds himself doggedly pursued by vixenish Meg (leather-lunged Maggie Portman). Meanwhile, trouble brews as hot-headed Harry Beaton (Rhett Guter) seethes with jealousy over the imminent wedding of Fiona’s sister “bonnie” Jean (charm-heavy Olivia Renteria) to stalwart Charlie Dalrymple (a vigorous Jordan Brown). When Harry’s disruption of the nuptials threatens to destroy the town forever, Tommy and Jeff realize that their arrival has altered time and endangered a necessary make-believe. They hastily return to New York. But the memory of Fiona’s unconditional love is strong and, well, one good miracle deserves another.

Katie Spelman (Maggie Anderson), Olivia Renteria (Jean MacLaren), Jennie Sophia (Fiona MacLaren) and Maggie Portman (Meg Brockie) in BRIGADOON at the Goodman Theatre.However implausible the miracle that has robbed these townsfolk of all but a sliver of their future, Lerner and Loewe’s realistically-drawn, modern-day Celtic fairy tale gleams with gold—priceless songs that melt you in the first measure: Tommy’s ardent “Almost Like Being in Love”; Fiona’s graceful “The Heather on the Hill,” “From This Day On,” and “Waitin’ for My Dearie”; and Charlie’s triumphant “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” and gorgeous ballad “Come To Me, Bend to Me” (which Andrew Lloyd Webber arrogantly borrowed in “Music of the Night”). The generous score also allows Meg to crack us up with the patter numbers “Love of My Life” and “My Mother’s Wedding Day.”

The cast of BRIGADOON at the Goodman Theatre.Within all this  eye-popping entertainment, there’s the “entrance of the clans” that allows costume designer Mara Blumenfeld to regale us with glorious combinations of tartans and plaids, presented against Kevin Depinet’s mysterious muslin backdrop, suggesting both high hills and ancient tapestries. Honoring Agnes de Mille’s original dances, Rockwell delivers a choreography that’s rustically rugged and liltingly passionate, sometimes at the same time as a wedding dance subdues itself into a bagpipe-blasting funeral procession or the Alpha-male sword dance. Shawn Sagady’s enthralling projections make us feel the chase through the woods as never before.

Assembling Chicago’s finest actors in vital character roles, this staging rewards us with Craig Spidle as the sisters’ thrifty, crusty dad, Roger Mueller as the sage who holds the secrets of this disappearing realm, and Larry Adams as yet another doubting da. The performers bring ravishing glee to everything they do, as if they really had waited a century to spring to life and love.

Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) and the cast in BRIGADOON at the Goodman Theatre.

photos by Liz Lauren

Brigadoon
Goodman Theatre
170 North Dearborn
scheduled to end on August 17, 2014
for tickets, call 312.443.3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org

for info on other Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alan July 8, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Mr. Bommer’s review in the first paragraph seems to be saying that Lerner wrote stuff that he never wrote. There is nothing in the original book about Brigadoon being a “secessionist hamlet” and that the reason it disappears into the mist is because the inhabitants view that as being better “than carry[ing] the guilt and pain of a fratricidal slaughter.” There is not a word about “fratricidal slaughter” in the original book. Are you trying to say that this stuff is in the new book but was not in the original? If so, it’s not reading that way to me. That whole first paragraph seems to be about what Lerner and Loewe created in 1947.

Also, the Goodman production is not the first major production since 1980 on Broadway. It was revived in the West End at the Victoria Palace Theatre, opening on October 25, 1988 and closing August 5, 1989. New York City Opera also revived the show in 1986 (with subsequent turns in 1991 and 1996). Surely those have to be counted as major productions. Both a while ago now, yes, but not quite three decades, and certainly all after 1980. I know that the Goodman publicity would have you believe that there has not been a major revival since 1980, but it ain’t so.

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