Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rabbit Run’s “Brigadoon,” a nice summer theatre experience

The period of 1943, from the opening of the first book musical, “Oklahoma,” until 1968, the opening of the tribal rock musical, “Hair,” is commonly referred to as the Golden Age of the Modern American Musical.  Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein created such shows as “Carousel,” “The King and I,” “Flower Drum Song,” and “The Sound of Music.”  That duo was matched by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, who gave us the likes of “Camelot,” “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi,” and “Paint Your Wagon.”  Throw in “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Music Man,” and “Guys and Dolls,” and you have a basic understanding of the foundation of our present musical theater.

Rogers and Hammerstein’s scripts featured the meaning of community and had strong social messages.  Their “South Pacific” is a cry for intercultural understanding and features the poignant, “You Have to Be Carefully Taught.” 

Lerner and Loewe centered their works on highlighting the perfect time, the perfect place and the perfect love story. “Brigadoon,” a staging of which is being presented at Rabbit Run Theatre, finds two present-day Americans lost in the Scottish highlands.  They stumble upon Brigadoon, a mystical 17th century village that only appears one day every hundred years.  The magic of the Highlands, the power of love, and the inescapable infinity of time create the perfect setting for a love story.

 “Waitin’ for my Dearie,” “The Heather on the Hill,” “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” “There But for You Go I,” and “From This Day On,” form a memorable score.  The orchestrations are plush and the music pushes the well-conceived story along.

As with any good musical plot, there are complications and the required classic musical theatre device where the first act ends with a problematic incident, the solution to which is the hinge on which the rest of the story depends.  In “Brigadoon,” on-going existence is dependent upon no member of the community leaving.  If a resident departs, the spell which allows the place to exist, frozen in time and space, will be broken.  When a rejected love-struck young man attempts to flee, the first act ends with the question of whether he will succeed and Brigadoon will be no more.

Besides being a charming fantasy, as director R. Scott Posey states in the program, “’Brigadoon’ is a story of love and faith, and having the courage to risk everything to gain everything.”

It must be recognized that while Rabbit Run was founded and operated for many years as a professional summer theatre, where the likes of Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronin, Dustin Hoffman, Jim Backus and Sandy Dennis performed, it is now an amateur summer venue.  The cast of “Brigadoon” is mainly composed of high school and college students.  Teens play adults, so the MacLaren daughters are about the same chronological age as their father. 

What the audience is seeing is basically a high school/community theatre production.  And, for that level, the Rabbit Run production is quite good and enjoyable.

Adorable Paige Heidrich is wonderful.  She has a trained voice, sings meanings not just words, and creates a consistent and real person as Fiona.  Her duets with Brian Mueller (Tommy) were all well sung.

Tom Hill, one of the few adults in the cast, is a perfect curmudgeon as the teacher and historian, Mr. Lundie.   Handsome Lincoln Sandham has a nice singing voice and creates a believable Charlie Dalrymple, the young groom.  His “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” is delightful.  Hannah Green is charming as Jean, Charlie’s betrothed.

Brian Mueller (Tommy) has a fine singing voice, but is physically stiff and unnatural in his character development.  Though she displays enthusiasm, Katie Moorman misses out in developing the outlandishness of Meg.  The usually delightful “The Love of My Life” and “My Mother’s Weddin’ Day” lacked clarity of idea and understandability.

Rabbit Run has little backstage space, tiny wings and no fly gallery.  Tech Director Paul Gatzke must be a master of the jigsaw puzzle as he creatively designed set pieces that moved into every nook and cranny of space.  

Performing on a postage sized stage, with a huge cast, makes most of the dancing sequences seem like a Scottish flash mob, each person fighting for their own space on stage.  Less dancers would have solved this issue.

Karen Ziegler’s costume’s are excellent.  Where she got all the appropriate clan kilts and shawls is a question of wonder.

Director Possey needed to work with the cast on being more natural, listening to each other as they speak, and have the chorus not respond like puppets, with preplanned gestures, movements and facial expressions.  There was a general feeling of “fakeness” as the cast acted, rather than reacted.

Make sure you go out into the courtyard at intermission to listen to young Mickey O’Toole, bagpiper extraordinaire.

Capsule judgment:  Rabbit Run’s “Brigadoon” is a nice summer escape.  If audience members enter with no expectations for a professional production they will have a fine time appreciating several fine performances, while luxuriating in the music, score, story of one of the American musical’s finest scripts.

“Brigadoon” runs through August 2, 2014 at Rabbit Run Theatre at 5648 Chapel Road, Madison.  For tickets go to or call 440-428-7092.  For a special offer of dinner and theatre:  A specially selected three-course menu offering five entrees, an appetizer, dessert as well as a theater ticket make up this $55 a person package (tax and tip are additional).  Reservations for this package may be made by calling Bistro 70 at 440-352-7070.  Bistro 70 is located at 70 N. St. Clair St., Painesville, OH.