Sunday, August 04, 2019

Audience-pleasing “Brigadoon” at The Shaw

The Golden Age of the American theatre, which is generally identified as from 1943 to 1975, starting with “Oklahoma” and ending with “Chorus Line,” were highlighted by a combination of songs, spoken dialogue and dancing contained in a story which had a clear structure, emotional content, and whose components were integrated together.

The shows that followed “Oklahoma” generally followed a format.

An important aspect of the musicals was of a two-level plot.  The first consisted of a love story, the second a tale of comic relief.  (e.g., Curley and Lauri—love story, Will and Ado Annie—comic relief, in “Oklahoma.”)

The script generally also included an opening number that set the emotional mood for the story (e.g., “Comedy Tonight” from “Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”).

There was an “I Want Song” in which the lead character told what they want from life (e.g., “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady.”) 

Other elements were a conditional love song that set up the romantic tale (e.g., “If I Loved You” from “Carousel.”  And, a “noise” song, a show stopper in each act intended to “wake up” the audience (e.g., “Bloody Mary” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame” in “South Pacific.”)

Though there were many successful Golden Age writers, probably the kings of the movement were the duos of Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe.

The former centered most of their shows on exploring community and social messages (e.g., “The King and I” and “Flower Drum Song.”)  The latter duet of writers, including their “Camelot” and “Brigadoon,” looked at the perfect time, the perfect place and the perfect love story.”

“Brigadoon,” which is now on stage at The Shaw Festival, tells the tale of two men, who, following World War II, while vacationing in Scotland stumble upon Brigadoon, a magical and mythical place that appears for only one day every 100 years. 

As must happen in any good romantic musical, Tommy, one of the tourists, falls in love with Fiona, a young woman from Brigadoon.  Problems abound as he is engaged, the wee village only has a short period of presence based on a deal made between the town’s pastor and the powers-that-be, and Tommy needs to stay forever or return to a life in New York sans love.   Added to the problems is the tale of a young Scottish lad, frustrated that the love of his life has been given to another, threatens to leave Brigadoon, thus breaking the spell, leading to its disappearance, forever.

From the opening number, we see and feel that “the mist is on the gloamin', and all the clouds are holdin' still,” that we are going to “go roamin' through the heather on the hill.” 

Love is in the air and we are aware from the “Vendors Call” and Fiona’s I wish song, “Waitin’ for My Dearie,” that song and dance are going to take us on a “wee” wonderful journey in which “Almost Like Being in Love” will become a reality.

“Brigadoon” is filled with enchanting and endearing songs.  It’s almost impossible to leave the theatre not humming such standards as “Almost Like Being in Love,” “From This Day On,” and “There But For You Go I.”

The Shaw production is an audience pleaser.  The story is clearly told, the almost cartoonish set illuminates the lack of reality of the goings on, and the music, in most instances, is well sung and interpreted.

As illustrated by Agnes DeMile’s dynamic original choreography for the Broadway production, the dancing in the Shaw staging is a little too controlled, needing more spontaneity and dynamism.  This was especially true in the “The Chase” in which the danger of the very existence of Brigadoon should be apparent, and “The Sword Dance” which needed to highlight the strong emotional feeling of impending doom.

The “noise” songs, “The Love of My Life” and “My Mother’s Wedding Day,” needed more abandonment and clearer diction to ensure that the humor of the musical tales could be understood and enjoyed.

The cast was generally strong.  Lovely Alexis Gordon was charming as Fiona MacLaren, the romantic lead.  She has a fine singing voice as was well illustrated in “From This Day On.” 

Handsome George Krissa created a totally believable Tommy, Fiona’s “Heather on the Hill” partner.  His “There But For You Go I” was a production emotional highlight.  He and Gordon displayed a nice interpersonal connection.

Mike Nadajewski was generally pleasing as Jeff, but both he and pert Kristi Frank as the seductive Meg, needed to have more dynamism as the comic reliefs.

The costumes, musical sound, lighting and sound all enhanced the production.

Capsule Judgment: “Brigadoon,” which is a classic example of one of the great American musicals, gets a very credible, audience-pleasing performance, at The Shaw. 

WHERE:  Festival Theatre
WHEN:  Through October 13