Reviewed by G.L. Horton
I first saw "Brigadoon" at exactly the right moment, when I was on the very cusp of adolescence, and I remember very well what it felt like to be under its spell. Such sweet sorrow! Such tears of joy! By the next day I had applied a little reality check -- how long can happily ever after be, if on Day Two already it's a crisis? Fred Loewe's timeless music was the real magic, of course, transmuting baser elements into the melodic gold of every soul's yearning for union. Hearing the soft strains of the opening's mist-drenched hymn to "Brigadoon", or such love songs as "It's Almost Like Being In Love", "The Heather on The Hill", "Bonnie Jean" and the almost too beautiful to bear "Come to Me, Bend to Me", how can the adolescent heart help but silently sing along?
By the time I encountered "Brigadoon" again, in the movie and in summer stock, it had lost much of its power over me, and I thought that was because I had grown up and become immune to it.. Director Bob Eagle and his Reagle Players have proved that theory wrong. Produced with a mix of first-rate amateurs and professional ringers, all of whom give a full-hearted commitment to the proposition that wishing can make it so, "Brigadoon" still delivers irresistible 100- proof romanticism.
One good reason for the potency of the Reagle's "Brigadoon" is the Fiona of Elizabeth Walsh. At the center of Loewe's fantasy is a Perfect Woman -- and Walsh plays one. It's a bit difficult to explain, but Walsh brings to Fiona the same quality she brought to the supporting role of Grace Farrell in the Reagle's "Annie" last season. Walsh's Grace was one of the reasons that the Reagle's "community theatre" version of "Annie" so outclassed the merely competent pre-Broadway version that played downtown at the Colonial. Walsh sings with the kind of exquisite tone we hope to hear in opera, but she makes it seem ordinary and natural, without a trace of pretension or strain. In spite of a convincing Scottish lilt, every word is clear; and every note is acted, colored by context. Walsh's outstanding characteristic as a performer is a kind of transparent responsiveness -- exactly what was most admired in womanhood in the late 40's, when psychologists insisted that the male was the one designed by nature to do, the female simply to be: he to act, she to react.
Tommy Albright (James Gardner), the hero from restless New York City, has a classy fiancee back in the dog-eat-dog modern world. But Tommy's Jane (Stacy Armstrong) is a woman of that world, a woman on the make, a woman with an agenda; and Tommy is only one part of it. Fiona's different: content with her simple life but able to respond to whatever mate fate throws her way, she's just "Waiting For My Dearie". Her circumstances are worn like comfortable clothes. They aren't just costumes, she is perfectly at home in them, but while neurotically modern Jane would be lost if she couldn't dress for success, Fiona could wear anything equally well--- an excellent characteristic in a person who is to bond at first sight with a time-warped stranger with whom she has nothing in common but "chemistry". Exactly why Fiona should respond to Tommy in particular, an all-purpose nice guy hero -- nicely played by the classically handsome and mellow voiced Gardner -- who stumbles into her Highland village is still a mystery, or as the script says, a miracle: but Walsh makes it a credible one. (Whether she could have pulled this off playing opposite a performer as specifically urban-American as the movie's Gene Kelly is another question).
Another good reason the Reagle's "Brigadoon" works miracles is its dancing. Choreographer Gemze DeLappe has reconstructed the original Agnes De Mille dances, and they are splendidly performed by guest artists from the Boston Ballet. Midway though the first number there was a great rustling of programs being consulted as it dawned on the audience that these were not jobbed-in show dancers we were watching, or the usual Waltham students and accountants and real estate agents who work their buns off until they can do a show's dances with the flash and polish of professional hoofers. The program cleared up the mystery: we were watching classically trained young people who came to De Mille's balleticized version of the folk patterns of Scotland by way of "Giselle". Intricate footwork, graceful arms, sylphlike bodies --- the most rarefied of sturdy peasants made up the corps village lads and lasses and the leading dancers, misfit Harry and bonnie Jean.
Every scrap of dance De Mille created for "Brigadoon" must be in this show. Certainly there are several that I have never seen before, beyond the memorable ones that shape the action and are so beautifully rendered: The tender bridal dance for Fiona's sister Jean, (Tekla Kostek) ; William Ward as Jean's rejected suitor Harry Beaton -- a very romantic Harry Beaton, with lean dark good looks and wonderfully expressive hands and eyes in addition to his terpsichorean ability--- using the sword dance at the wedding to express all his passion and rage and recklessness; The men of the village running and leaping as they hunt Harry through the woods at night, trying to stop him before he breaks the enchantment and ends all their lives; The mourning dance, filled with Martha Graham contractions to express the womb-centered pain of loss, and danced here by Harry's admirer Maggie (Ann Beth Carey).
These and the other dance numbers are so lovely, and so absorbing, that one wonders if anyone has considered scrapping the words and adding just a bit more choreography to transfer "Brigadoon" to the ballet repertoire? As it is, more than half the nearly three hour show is dance, and the mind-boggling story might play better stripped of exposition and explanation. Michael Quinn does all that can be done with the part of the Schoolmaster Mr. Ludie, the one who has to supply the e & e at a point in the show where it is too late to matter anyway. But even Quinn's silver tongue fails to make this nonsense convincing. Presbyterian invisibility spells against the wiles of witches, indeed!
The comic leads, even in talented persons of A. J. Sullivan and Beth Martin, have a rather difficult time, thanks to Mr. Lerner's book. As Tommy's sidekick and the overripe Scottish Lassie who is determined to bed him, they have to get us to laugh at alcoholism and nymphomania. A therapeutically conditioned culture doesn't find such jokes as funny as they were fifty years ago. Most of the time Sullivan amuses us in spite of ourselves, he is such good company. Martin's big song "My Mother's Wedding Day" is cursed with a punch line that is based on the shock value of a promiscuous woman with a strapping illegitimate daughter landing a husband. Unfortunately what was shocking in the 40's is now nearly the norm.
Reagle regular Nathan Croner plays Charles Dalrymple, the cheerful fellow Jean marries, and although technically an amateur he wins the triple laurel wreath: Croner dances well enough to pass for a dancer, he's handsome enough and acts with such winning charm that any sane girl might prefer his smiles to the Bryonic scowls of love-struck Harry, and when Croner lifts his golden tenor voice in song the nightingales themselves must be chirping "Bravo!"
The Reagle chorus, under Dorothy DiDomenico's direction, sing with their usual accuracy and enthusiasm. A few of them do look a bit less self-confident than usual about their greatest strength, which is grounding a show by being real rounded everyday people on stage, so that the musical's imaginary garden has real toads in it. (Marianne Moore's prescription for poetry.) If the amateurs were worrying about their Scotts' accents, they shouldn't have. They sounded fine. And the chorus members who were recruited to fill out the ballet corps for some of the big numbers acquitted themselves very well. The orchestra, directed by Jeffrey P. Leonard and Julia Liu and augmented by bagpiper Brian Quirk, was simply top notch. David Wilson's expert lighting worked wonders with the mediocre set, and the costumes, borrowed from the North Carolina School of the Arts, were just fine. The Reagle has done it again: a production to cherish in memory.