MUSICALS LIKE THIS OCCUR ONCE EVERY 100 YEARS
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
photos by Liz Lauren
170 North Dearborn
scheduled to end on August 17, 2014
for tickets, call 312.443.3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org
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