The mystical village of Brigadoon is a blessed place, appearing out of the Scottish Highlands’ mists once every hundred years with its 18th Century innocence and delightfullness intact.
Lucky Americans Jeff Douglas (Lansing O’Leary) and Tommy Albright (Mike McLean) stumble upon it while lost on a hunting expedition. Once there, they fall into the wedding festivities of Charlie Dalrymple (Darian Lunsford) and the bonnie Jean MacLaren (Megan Schwartz), whose elder sister Fiona (Katherine Riddle) is as kind as she is beautiful. It doesn’t take Tommy—who has a fiancée named Jane in New York—long before he’s smitten and struggling between returning to the life’s he’s always lived or diving head first into a fantastical existence, referred to as “the miracle,” few can imagine.
It’s a plot that sounds like it could have been woven into 2005’s Lost (the TV show) or ripped from Starz’s current Outlander series, but Brigadoon was conjured up in the 1940’s by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and later made into a film starring none other than Gene Kelly.
I knew nothing of Brigadoon heading into the show so the supernatural angle caught me off-guard for a musical first produced on Broadway in 1947. Fantasy abounds today, having infiltrated media with the speed of light, but I just didn’t expect 1940s theatre to have tackled something that can be hard to illustrate without today’s special effects technology, especially on a stage.
But Brigadoon feels surprisingly right in 2015, and the Compass Rose Theatre’s telling is as magical as anything you may find on TV or in the cinema, thanks in large part to some stellar performances, which infuse the show with very real charm. Emily Frank’s spirited choreography, perfectly tailored to a narrow space, enriches every musical number and, at times, verges on being an old-school dance-off (and, I mean that as a compliment—who doesn’t love a dance-off, no matter the style?).
Brigadoon has a strong cast overall with Megan Tatum a particular standout. Her Meg is a loose, plucky, fun gal best served with O’Leary’s Jeff Douglas, who’s a well-meaning and shallow drunkard with the best chuckle-worthy and zippy one-liners, especially as he rebuffs Meg’s advances during “The Love of My Life.” As the comic relief, whose coupling is the antithesis of the real affection between Charlie and Jean and, eventually, Tommy and Fiona, they are droll flirts.
As Tommy and Fiona, McLean and Riddle are sweet and earnest in their mutual adoration. Riddle’s voice soars in their three duets (“The Heather on the Hill”, “Almost Like Being in Love”, and “From this Day On”), but McLean is no slouch either. In fact no one in the cast is, pulling off the songs with precision and grace. The ladies (Schwartz, Tatum, Ryann Lillis, and Elizabeth Spilsbury), in particular, glide their way through the choreography like skaters on ice while Greg Jones Ellis as Mr.Lundie, the schoolmaster who describes “the miracle” to Jeff and Tommy, is the amenable, jolly sort you just enjoying watching on stage.
But Taylor Hopkins, whose lovesick, forlorn Harry Beaton threatens Brigadoon’s very precarious existence, steals the show with “The Sword Dance” at Charlie and Jean’s wedding celebration. And, in a kilt no less! Yes, there are plenty of kilts and tons of tartan, a lovely backdrop depicting rolling hills and even real bagpipes (thanks to Christian Kriegeskotte, playing alongside pianist Erick Clark).
The Scottish accents are uneven, enough so that it may have been better to cast them aside. By the end, no one maintains theirs with the same gusto found in the first scene. A little failing in an otherwise enjoyable production, which springs from one of our grandest musical theater eras.
Lerner and Loewe’s music still bewitches, while the story of love conquering everything—even time—endures. Yet, the resolution feels a bit cheesy and the rules of Brigadoon’s existence feel flimsy (I like my implausible fantasy to seem plausible). I mean, Harry Beaton’s anger at “the miracle” is pretty understandable, making the climatic scene in which he attempts to leave Brigadoon quite sad. As much as I was rooting for Tommy and Fiona to find happiness together in the village, I kind of wanted Harry to find happiness outside the village too, an impossibility within “the miracle,” which binds Brigadoon’s residents there for eternity.
No matter. Brigadoon, rich as it is with songs and dance, is lively and entertaining. And a great family pick for the holidays.
Brigadoon . Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; Music by Frederick Loewe . Directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne . Featuring Joe Rossi, Cameron Ashbaugh, Greg Jones Ellis, Darian Lunsford, Katherine Riddle, Taylor Hopkins, Megan Tatum, Megan Schwartz, Lansing O’Leary, Ryann Lillis, Mike McLean, Elizabeth Spilsbury . Choreographer: Emily Frank . Music Director: Anita O’Connor . Set Design: Joseph Powell, Sr. . Stage Manager, Props, Sound Design: Mary Ruth Cowgill . Costume Design: Renee Vergauwen . Lighting Design: Arthur Karasek . Musicians: Eric Clark (Pianist), Christian Kriegeskotte (Highland Bagpipe) . Produced by Compass Rose Theater . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.