REVIEW: Catch “Brigadoon” before it disappears!
A sold-out “gala presentation” of the hauntingly glorious 1947 Lerner and Lowe musical “Brigadoon” plays New York City Center through Sunday—and you will want to catch it (if you can) before it disappears.
Billed as a concert, long gone are the music stands and scripts of yore, replaced by a full-fledged production with costumes, lights, sets, memorized music and lines, a large ensemble and orchestra, and full out direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon (“An American in Paris”, New York City Ballet).
The beauty of these short-run “concerts” is the ability to attract the best performers in the business, here including Kelli O’Hara (“The King and I”), Patrick Wilson (“Oklahoma!”), Stephanie J. Block (“Falsettos”), Aasif Mandvi (“The Daily Show”), and Robert Fairchild (“An American in Paris”), all of whom give stunning performances.
This classic of the musical theatre canon from the early end of the golden age centers around a Scottish town—Brigadoon—cast under a spell that makes it vanish in the Highland mist, only to reappear once every 100 years for a single day. If any citizen of Brigadoon leaves, the enchantment will be broken for all and the town will disappear, never to return (talk about elevating the stakes!).
An outsider can stay in Brigadoon if he loves a local so deeply, without reservation, that he’ll give everything up to remain forever. This sets the stage for our lovelorn leading man (Patrick Wilson), a tourist from New York who stumbles upon Brigadoon with his traveling buddy (Aasif Mandvi) and falls for a local gal (Kelli O’Hara) on a fateful day.
Unlike its profoundly silly Irish cousin, “Finian’s Rainbow”, which opened in the same Broadway season, “Brigadoon” is somberly sweet and romantically tender. There is a sadness and air of longing imbuing its top-notch score, memorably playful in its employment of the Scottish idiom, and featuring such enduring ballads as “The Heather on the Hill” and “Almost Like Being in Love”.
Rodgers and Hammerstein weren’t the only duo knocking it out of the park in the 1940s; Lerner and Lowe spun, arguably, their finest score with “Brigadoon”, and the The Encores! Orchestra, under the direction of Mike Berman and using the original, lush orchestrations by Ted Royal, has never sounded finer.
Agnes de Mille famously choreographed the original Broadway production; for this presentation, Christopher Wheeldon has sculpted energetic and gorgeous movement and dances, especially the rousing “Sword Dance and Reel” that closes Act I, and the haunting “Funeral Dance” in Act II.
The stars of this wonderful “Brigadoon”, however, are Kelli O’Hara and Patrick Wilson, who elevate what might otherwise be a lame and hokey book with their grounded and natural delivery. Oh, and they can sing, too. Mr. Wilson, whose voice is as good as ever, has been absent from the New York stage for far too long, and Ms. O’Hara proves, once again, why she is the reigning leading lady of Broadway. Her voice is soaringly perfect, and perfectly tuned for this score.
“Brigadoon” was made into a film in 1954, enjoyed four Broadway revivals between 1950 and 1980, mountings by the New York City Opera in 1986 and 1991, and an Off-Broadway production at the Irish Repertory Theatre in 2010. There’s a reason for its endurance—this is a dream of a musical, with a soft-focused, magical milieu that casts a spell on you. It is old-fashioned, for sure, but not dated, remarkably well-integrated for its time and slyly progressive, especially in the character of the horny Meg Brockie (Stephanie J. Block – divine as always) who sings “The Love of My Life”, a comic survey of her many ill-fated love affairs.
Like most musicals of its era, “Brigadoon” features a wedding and a pair of lovers who fall in love in a single day; on paper, it might seem like a cheap rip off of “Oklahoma!”, but to me its fantasy setting summons the same magical quality that permeates another Rodgers and Hammerstein great, “South Pacific”. Suffice it to say, this enchanting musical has well-earned its place in history. Hopefully, after Sunday, we won’t have to wait 100 years for it to reappear.
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes (one intermission)
Limited Run: November 15-19, 2017