Goodman Theatre raising curtain on rarely-staged ‘Brigadoon’
By HEDY WEISS Theater Critic June 24, 2014 2:56PM
Jennie Sohpia (as Fiona MacLaren), Jordan Brown (as Charlie Dalrymple), Curt Bouril (as Jeff Douglas) and Kevin Earley (as Tommy Albright) in "Brigadoon" at the Goodman Theatre. | PHOTO BY LIZ LAUREN
When: Previews begin June 27; opens July 7 and runs through Aug. 10
Where: Goodman Theatre, Tickets
170 N. Dearborn
Info: (312) 443-3800;
Updated: June 25, 2014 3:03PM
Before there was “My Fair Lady” or “Camelot,” there was “Brigadoon,” the musical about two young guys from New York who are transformed by their encounter with a mythical Scottish village. The show, which opened on Broadway in 1947, put the team of writer-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe firmly on the map.
“‘Brigadoon’ was very popular early on,” said Liza Lerner, the commercial producer who oversees the rights to much of her father’s work. “It was considered quite revolutionary in its way, and was one of the most licensed shows in the country. But over the years it became less so — its last Broadway revival was back in 1980 — so I thought it was time for it to be reexamined.”
And who better to do the “re-examining” than two of Chicago’s most gifted “musical masters” — Rachel Rockwell (the director/choreographer whose tranformative productions of “Oliver!,” “Annie,” “42nd Street,” and a slew of others have been lighting up the stages of Drury Lane Oakbrook and Aurora’s Paramount Theatre for the past decade), and her frequent collaborator, music director and conductor Roberta Duchak.
“I didn’t know Rachel’s work, but I knew I wanted to find someone I wasn’t familiar with to work on this revival,” said Lerner. “I read reviews of her work online, and learned she was a choreographer as well as a director, so I flew to Chicago, took her to dinner, and we just hit it off. All the things she had to say about ‘Brigadoon’ resonated. One of her gifts is storytelling, and I sensed she knew exactly what was needed to bring this show to today’s audiences, and to make it feel real, clear and very grounded.”
Lerner also sat down for a chat with Robert Falls, artistic director of the Goodman Theatre.
“He said the Goodman had its eye on Rachel, but hadn’t found quite the right project for her, so this would be perfect,” Lerner recalled.
Ask Rockwell to tell the story of “Brigadoon” and you immediately see she how deeply she has researched it.
“It’s about a Scottish town that was in the midst of a great conflict in 1746, so the inhabitants asked God for a miracle that would make them all disappear except for one day every 100 years,” she explained. “This would make them safe from the outside world; they would never be touched. But then in 1946, on the ‘second day’ of their ‘return,’ two Americans on a hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands get lost and stumble into Brigadoon, and from there a series of romances develop.”
Part fairy tale and part modern relationship story, the musical is set after World War II. One of the travelers, Tommy Albright (played by Kevin Earley), was a soldier who has come back from the war. A romantic by nature, he is engaged to marry a New York socialite, but falls in love with Fiona (Jennie Sophia), a resident of Brigadoon. Tommy’s pal, Jeff Douglass (Curt Bouril), is a more cynical type, who has a fling with Meg Brockie (Maggie Portman), a flirtatious dairymaid.
“The culture clash is instantaneous. But what both men respond to is how happy the people of Brigadoon are for every moment they get to be alive. That is infectious, and changes both men,” said Rockwell.
The book of the show has been “tweaked” by Brian Hill, a Canadian-bred writer and director with many Broadway credits.
“But this is not a ‘revisal’,” said Lerner (whose 2011 revival of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” was just that, and fared badly, aside from the fact that it introduced Chicago actress and recent Tony Award-winner Jessie Mueller to New York).
As Rockwell explains: “I wanted to infuse the show with more of Scotland, and give it the historical and cultural context contemporary audiences expect. In 1746 the Scots were trying to reclaim the English throne, and were inches away from doing so. But then they were given bad information by a traitor, and the English slaughtered them, dismantled the entire clan system, forbid them to govern themselves and destroyed their cultural identity. I wanted to shore up the logic of the story, making sure there was a concrete reason for everything that happened. The irony is that Scotland will be voting on a referendum about independence from Great Britain this September, so our timing is perfect.”
About the score, Duchak is effusive: “I think ‘Brigadoon’ has one of the most lushly beautiful and melodic classical scores created for Broadway, and this production will have a 13-piece orchestra and wonderful orchestrations. A great deal of it has a real Scottish country feel, but late in the show we also hear some real 1940s-era New York jazz. The show also is full of standards — ‘Almost Like Being in Love,’ ‘The Heather on the Hill,’ ‘Come to Me, Bend to Me.’ And then there’s ‘From This Day On,’ which is so glorious I can’t understand why every soprano doesn’t use it as an audition song.”
And then there is the dancing, which consumes close to 40 minutes of the show and mixes the surprisingly related forms of ballet and traditional Scottish dancing (a sword dance, funeral dance, chase scene). The original Broadway production was choreographed by Agnes de Mille. Rockwell is collaborating with veteran Chicago choreographer Gordon Peirce Schmidt.
“Storytelling is at the root of everything I do, including the choreography,” said Rockwell. “You must have a valid reason for taking that next step, and for seeing why something gets musicalized in the first place. But I do always come to a show with a physical perspective. I know how I want it to move, especially from scene to scene, and how I want to keep the tension up. But there must be an emotional take-away for the audience. ”
Costumes also play a crucial role in “Brigadoon.”
“Because of what happened in 1746, the Scots were forbidden to wear Highland dress, and could be jailed for it,” said Rockwell. “So when they put on the tartans for the entry of the clans it’s a very emotional experience. Our costume designer, Mara Blumenthal, went to Scotland and did extensive research at different tartan mills, and all our kilts are coming from Inverness. And believe me, something changes in the actors when they put them on. We have some very handsome, strapping men who look very sexy in them. Remember, two women cast this show, so it will be fun.”