Review: A Magical ‘Brigadoon’ at Encores! City Center
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, November 20, 2017
Whatever happened to Brigadoon? Not the place, the musical. Yeah, the place supposedly comes back every 100 years, but it was beginning to look like a century might pass before we saw the musical again in a full-scale professional production. The last Broadway revival was in 1980, and lately it’s been hard to even find a regional production of the show.
Conventional wisdom in musical theater circles was that Brigadoon, despite a genuinely glorious score, was becoming increasingly difficult to revive, given the show’s fantastical premise and musty libretto. Then along came Encores!, an organization that specializes in polishing off neglected gems to see how well they shine in modern light.
And this is one lustrous Brigadoon, thanks to a first-rate cast of performers — in particular, Patrick Wilson and Kelli O’Hara as the central couple, Tommy and Fiona — and the magical ministrations of director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.
I had forgotten just how lush and sweeping the score to Brigadoon is. Frederick Loewe’s music is flowing and supple, alongside Alan Jay Lerner’s intelligent and often cheeky lyrics. The songs do have a tendency to stop the show rather than propel it, but that was true of most Broadway musicals in the 1940s. As the Encores! production proceeded, it seemed as though every song cue was designed to elicit chills, although my reaction may have been a function of both the inherent beauty of the score and the fact that I hadn’t heard these gorgeous songs in quite a while.
Apart from the stellar cast, the main attraction to this Encores! production was Christopher Wheeldon’s vibrant choreography. I was rather underwhelmed by Wheeldon’s musical theater debut, the recent Broadway production of An American in Paris, although I found great merit in much of Wheeldon’s copious dance. But here, Wheeldon’s dance was nothing short of a revelation, full of dynamic geometry and sinuous waves of elegantly writhing limbs.
But then there’s that book. Lerner’s libretto is certainly chockablock with his signature wry wit, but it’s also a little on the static side. The characters feel like placeholders, and the manufactured logic behind the “miracle” is muddled and sketchy, even if you make an active effort to suspend disbelief. And the show features what is easily the most groan-worthy deus ex machina in musical theater history. But in Wheeldon’s dynamic production, the combination of vibrant dance, luscious score, and the earnest sentiment of the performers persuaded me to overlook the manifold flaws in the story.
Kelli O’Hara just seems to get more and more effortless in her acting, and her voice has gotten even richer. Ross Lekites makes for a charming and affable Charlie Dalrymple. Robert Fairchild brings a depth and richness to the role of Harry Beaton that his lead role in An American in Paris barely even hinted at. And Stephanie J. Block as Meg does her charming best with a paper-thin character and the two most superfluous songs in the show.
And then there’s Patrick Wilson. Folks, can we please get this man back to Broadway, in whatever capacity? Sure, his matinee-idol looks may light up the screen, both big and small. But he’s too good on stage to let him slip away to competing media. His fine tenor voice seems to have settled down into a rich, resonant baritone. And television roles aren’t really going to give him a chance to exercise those gifts, now are they?
So, is Brigadoon revivable on Broadway? All I can say is, if some enterprising producer were willing to lock in this cast, and bring on Christopher Wheeldon to man the helm, then I’d be willing to see this production again in a New York minute.
Brigadoon presented by Encores! at New York City Center on November 15-19, 2017. Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; music by Frederick Loewe; original dances created by Agnes de Mille. Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon; music direction by Rob Berman; artistic advisor: Jack Viertel; set and projection design by 59 Productions; costume design by Emily Rebholz; lighting design by Ken Billington; sound design by Scott Lehrer; orchestrations by Ted Royal.
Cast: Stephanie J. Block, Patricia Delgado, Sara Esty, Robert Fairchild, Rich Hebert, Jamie Jackson, Ross Lekites, Aasif Mandvi, Dakin Matthews, Kelli O’Hara, Patrick Wilson, Mark Aldrich, Giselle O. Alvarez, Florrie Bagel, Callan Bergmann, Ward Billeisen, Peter Chursin, Peyton Crim, Christine DiGiallonardo, Rebecca Eichenberger, Anastacia Holden, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Jules-Romay Joseph, Timothy McDevitt, David Scott Purdy, Nicholas Ranauro, Lindsay Roberts, Shannon Rugani, Carly Blake Sebouhian, Lucas Segovia, Gabriela M. Soto, Madison Stratton, Emily Tate, Ron Todorowski, Nicholas Ward.
Cover: (l. to r.) Aasif Mandvi, Patrick Wilson, Dakin Matthews, and Kelli O’Hara in Encores! ‘Brigadoon;’ photo: Joan Marcus.