Almost Like Being in Love: Encore’s "Brigadoon" is a must-see musical treat
Director Matthew Brennan in his program notes writes that he was taken with the idea of a circle of community, love, commitment, and, since the play’s action occurs on the day of a wedding, the symbolic wedding band. So this classic, romantic musical comedy lends itself well to a center stage with action playing along all aisles, making the audience residents for a night in the close-knit community of Brigadoon.
We feel the magic of this town and its people in this near-perfect production.
Brigadoon is a story of the clash of the modern with the past. Through a magic spell to avoid the curse of witches, Brigadoon magically appears for one day every hundred years. This particular day is day two since the spell of 1746.
Two Americans on a trek through Scotland happen upon a clearing and an unmapped village to find themselves in another age, another world. Tommy is a lost soul, a romantic tired of the world of 1946 America. His older friend Jeff is a grumpy cynic unimpressed by the idea of magic with a sharp quip for every occasion.
Frederick Loewe’s music nicely merges Broadway show tunes with Scottish folk music to create a winning score with such well-known songs as “Almost Like Being in Love,” “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” “Waitin’ for My Dearie,” and “The Heather on the Hill.” Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics reveal character within the context of his script but, often, stand alone as American standards.
Brennan uses his circular stage to involve and engulf the audience, give energy to his choreography and provide that symbolic idea of community and infinity.
For Tommy Albright, Brigadoon -- with its rousing dances, rough humor, and genial, low-key lifestyle -- is a respite from the hurried life of New York City. For his friend Jeff, it’s hicksville or a bad dream. But Tommy has met Fionna MacLaren and fallen in love. Fionna’s sister Jean is going to marry the dashing Charlie Dalrymple, having spurned the love of the volatile but bookish Harry Beaton, creating the plays dramatic tension.
Brennan does double duty here as he takes on the role of Tommy. This lead role was played by Gene Kelly, but Brennan is more like that other famous screen dancer, Fred Astaire. His is that softer but somewhat troubled look. Brennan has a fine, romantic voice perfect for the yearning of “Almost Like Being in Love.” He is also a fine actor, giving Tommy a gentle but heroic demeanor.
He meets his match in Allison Hunt-Kaufmann as Fiona. This is a fierce Fiona. She yearns sweetly for love in “Waitin’ for My Dearie” but sharply kids Tommy’s romantic notions of country life in her humorous take on “The Heather on the Hill.” Hunt-Kaufmann has a fine voice and her acting is nicely detailed and subtle.
The comic standout is Rachel Cupples as Meg Brockie, the love-starved, flamboyant town tart. Cupples is hilarious in two outstanding and lyrically complex songs, “The Love of My Life” and “My Mother’s Wedding Day”. She throws her body around with amazing dexterity, dances up a storm, gives a brilliant reading on the tongue-twisting lyrics, and has the audience with her all the way.
Mark Gmazel is appropriately loud, grumpy and sharp-witted as Jeff, who becomes the major love target for Meg.
Patrick Wallace brings a big grin, dashing dance movements and a strong voice to the role of Charlie. He has a rousing solo on the folk-based “Come to Me, Bend to Me” and leads a chorus for his jaunty declaration of love “I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean."
Bryana Hall makes a very bonnie Jean with a sweet flirtatious smile and good humor. She also dances winsomely.
Jeremy Barnett’s set has Shakespearean simplicity, with easily adjusted props, effective lighting and a decorative ceiling of hanging bottles.
The large cast is uniformly excellent. Lerner’s final moments have always seemed hurried and corny. But that is not a fault of this well sung, exuberantly danced and very funny production.
This is a must-see musical comedy.
Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.
The Encore Musical Theatre production of "Brigadoon" continues 7:30 pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and 2 pm on Sundays at the theater at 3126 Broad St., Dexter. For tickets, call 734-268-6200, go to the theater box office, or visit theencoretheatre.org.