Encore Musical Theatre’s ‘Brigadoon’ is a flight of fancy
DEXTER, Mich.–Life imitates art in Encore Musical Theatre’s fine new production of Brigadoon.
Theater-goers are familiar with this classic Lerner and Loewe love story, which debuted on Broadway in 1947 and inspired the 1954 MGM film. Two New York gents become lost hiking in the Scottish highlands, where they stumble upon a tiny town named Brigadoon where villagers are buzzing with preparations for a wedding.
Brigadoon isn’t on the travelers’ map. It’s an enchanted town that exists for only one day every 100 years. The town remains blissfully stuck in the 18th century as a result of a pact its minister once made with God. The deal preserves Brigadoon’s goodness and innocence, despite the ravages of evil and modernity.
Of course, there’s a catch. The miracle ends – and Brigadoon will vanish forever into the highland midst – if any of the villagers leaves the place.
A suitor spurned by the bride can’t bear to see her marry another and vows to leave, seemingly sealing Brigadoon’s demise.
Encore’s production may have also faced extinction when – just two days before its April 18th opening – the actor playing the male lead departed the production. There was no understudy in the wings, so Director Matthew Brennan, an accomplished actor and song-and-dance man, slid into the role himself.
The only hint that this show survived a potential opening week crisis is a loose insert stuffed into the printed program that Brennan is in the role of Tommy Albright. Brennan plays the wistful Tommy — who is steeped in malaise and searching for a place to belong – beautifully.
While Brigadoon may not have as many show-stopping tunes as Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s later musicals (My Fair Lady, Camelot), this show does feature romantic songs that have endured, including “Almost Like Being in Love,”(covered by a multitude of singers including Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald) “The Heather on the Hill,” and “Come to Me, Bend to Me.”
The show seems seasoned with music, drama, dancing and singing all in pleasing proportions.
The entire acting, singing and dancing ensemble is very strong. Brigadoon villagers all look the part in period costumes that feature full skirts, peasant -style blouses and lace-up bustiers for the women, and tartan kilts, tams, and lace-up cotton shirts for the men. They sound the part, too, with no slips from the Scottish accent detected. There is a lot of Celtic dancing show, and it’s all wonderful.
Allison Hunt-Kaufmann shimmers as Fiona MacLaren, Tommy’s love interest and the older sister of the bride. Bryana Hall and Patrick Wallace also shine in their roles as the bridal couple, Jean MacLaren and Charlie Dalrymple.
Jose Martinez-Chavarria is fabulous as the love-spurned Harry Beaton, and his sword dance with Sebastian Gerstner (Angus MacGuffie) to end the first half is sublime.
Rachael Cupples portrayal of the village’s man-chaser, Meg Brockie, is a comic crowd-pleaser. Watching her sing “The Love of My Life” while making seductive advances toward Tommy’s flummoxed friend Jeff Douglas (Mark Gmazel) is, all by itself, worth the price of admission.
Another highlight of this very good show is Meg McNamee’s interpretive dance during a scene of devastating grief. Prepare for your heart to feel like it’s being ripped from your chest.
There are no bagpipes in Tyler Driskill’s six-piece live orchestra – but bagpipes are heard nonetheless, and beautifully integrated with the live music, by way of a recording from Ann Arbor Orchestra musician Tim Michling.
And that observation leads me to the thing that probably most remarkable about this show: The setting is a beautiful, mythical village–yet Encore’s show doesn’t have a stitch of scenery. What is remarkable about that is, while I was watching the production, it didn’t occur to me that there were no sets.
Might have been some Brigadoon magic.
Brennan and Encore’s creative team reconfigured theater seating to do this show in a round. Actors enter the stage area from nine directions throughout the theater. There are a few simple props – a flower basket, two sawhorses and wooden door, a small table – but the rest of Brigadoon is a spell the show casts.
Brennan said he initially was not enthused about doing Brigadoon because the script seemed dated and rather static. What’s more, he said he knew it would be challenging to do a show with a large cast within the narrow confines of the Encore space. Brennan also reconfigured the space for Sweeney Todd, which won the Wilde Award for Best Musical.
By directing in a round, Brennan has invigorated the show and immersed the audience in a lot of activity. Rather than paint fields of heather on brick walls, Brennan took a gamble that excellent acting could create the illusion. And then he unexpectedly became part of the cast that pulled it off.
The message of Brigadoon is that – if you really love a person or a place – anything can happen, even miracles. Maybe that premise is dated. Or, maybe it’s just what we need to hear.