Our hearts are contentedly in the Highlands for most of "Brigadoon," which is being given a royal revival at the Majestic, where it opened last night. After more than three decades, this initial Lerner and Loewe triumph still has the power to enchant us with its outpouring of glorious songs, and the newcomers who sing and dance to them could hardly be surpassed. Broadway is a happier place today, actually a century later by Brigadoon's reckoning of time.
In 1980, the naive story of the charmed Scottish town that awakens to emerge from the mists just one day every 100 years could provoke some easy jests, as witness the ribald laughter that greeted an elder's remarks about women's place in this starchy community. But "Brigadoon" is, after all, a fairy tale (with a German antecedent, if I remember correctly), and the current production glistens with fancifulness in every respect - staging, scenic design, costuming and lighting. And although it was with "Oklahoma!" four years earlier that Agnes de Mille, whose dances have been recreated here, broke fresh ground in our musical theater, "Brigadoon" in many ways represents her maturest work in the field.
And speaking of "Oklahoma!," the indebtedness of Lerner and Loewe to Rodgers and Hammerstein in both story line and song is more startling than ever at this remove, when the parallels stand out so clearly. In that heyday of the American musical, treasures seemed to leap at us - "Finian's Rainbow," for example, preceded "Brigadoon" by a mere two months - in contrast to the present's sparse musical landscape.
Vivian Matalon, whose direction is masterly at every turn, has dispensed with the overture, letting the curtain rise on the misty Highlands on that fateful morn two young American sightseers, Tommy and Jeff, hear distant voices intoning the title song, and then discover the town itself clearing and rising from its century-old sleep for the second time since an 18th-century solon prayed for his village's protection from the corrupting outside world.
The pair are soon caught up in the bustling activity ("Down on MacConnachy Square"), and then in fairly rapid succession we succumb to such winning expressions as "Waitin' for My Dearie," "The Heather on the Hill," "Come to Me, Bend to Me" with its lovely de Mille choreography, and just before the close of the first half, the show's big hit, "Almost Like Being in Love."
The second half is more somber, though the exhilarating Sword Dance, brilliantly executed by a skateless but balletically perfect John Curry, is riveting. Aside from reprises, just two songs remain: the rather heavyhanded "There But for You Go I" and the soaring duet "From This Day On." "My Mother's Wedding Day" has been scrapped, only the melody turning up in a "Drunken Reel" in which the man-hungry Meg Brockie, first cousin to Ado Annie, is allowed a brief comedy turn. I would guess that the song was dropped because of the unfortunately glowering, rather than sunny, presence of Elaine Hausman in the role. Her first-act "The Love of My Life" is sung spiritedly, but without much presence.
I can find nothing but praise for the others. Martin Vidnovic, who attracted attention as Jud in the recent revival of "Oklahoma!," is a superbly dynamic Tommy, the New Yorker who rediscovers his lost horizon at the finish, and he is matched in the love scenes with Fiona by the pert and pretty Meg Bussert, who stood out in last season's revival of "The Music Man" and who sings like a dream. Stephen Lehew brings a perfectly-focused lyric tenor and engaging presence to the part of Charlie Dalrymple and the songs "I'll Go Home to Bonnie Jean" and "Come to Me, Bend to Me." Mark Zimmerman lends fine light comedy support as Tommy's skeptical pal Jeff. Marina Eglevsky, daughter of the great Andre, excels in the Funeral Dance, and Mollie Smith is all gossamer as the virginal Jean in the pre-wedding dance with her bridesmaids. Jack Dabdoub, as the stern father of Fiona and Jean; Frank Hamilton as Mr. Lundie, who alone is empowered to tell interlopers the strange tale of Brigadoon; and all the others, including the well-drilled ensemble, deserve our thanks.
Loewe's lovely score has been excellently re-orchestrated, and Wally Harper's musical direction and vocal arrangements are first-rate. The evocative scenery, including the brief New York cocktail-bar scene near the close, is beautifully complemented by the costumes and lighting. The only touching up, aside from dates, that I could discern in Lerner's book was an amusingly apt reference to the Susan B. Anthony dollar.
"Brigadoon," though slightly flawed, is a classic of our musical theater, as well as the first of only two unquestionable Lerner and Loewe masterpieces for the stage (their third gem was the movie "Gigi"). I, for one, thrilled anew to its beauties.
The mists are swirling, the heather is blooming and Brigadoon is back in town, opening at the Majestic Theater last night. Brigadoon, it will be recalled, was the first hit musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and in this most handsome and completely new staging by Vivian Matalon, it deserves to be a hit again.
Brigadoon is a village in bonnie Scotland - at least sporadically. Two hundred years ago its minister prayed for a miracle from God. It was simple enough a request - merely that the village should disappear into the mists of time and reappear for one day once a century. This way the village will be protected from the contamination of modern civilization.
It works. God grants the miracle. The village goes to sleep one night, wakes up the next morning and it is a century later.
Unfortunately, two days (or two centuries, according to your counting method) after the time warp is warped, a couple of contemporary American tourists stumble into the fantasy and find themselves caught up in this mystic village with its big sleep. One of them falls in love with a local lassie - what will happen? Hint - faith will move mountains even in the Highlands.
Lerner himself says this fey and somewhat sentimental story was inspired by J.M. Barrie and it could well have been. Other people have suggested that it had been taken more or less intact from a German folk-tale. No matter - it makes a pleasant and unusually engrossing basis for a musical.
There is also the music, and Lerner's nimble lyrics make a perfect match for Loewe's effulgently melodious score. Although Brigadoon started life in 1947, its music and lyrics are as timeless as the village it celebrates.
This Brigadoon is quite different from the original - except in one respect. Agnes de Mille's choreography here recreated by James Jamieson (who danced in the 1949 London production), has been, very sensibly, retained. This was some of de Mille's finest work and as much a part of the fabric of the musical as Loewe's music and Lerner's lyrics.
Lerner has made some changes in the book but they are not apparent. However the visual concept - the scenery designed by Michael J. Hotopp and Paul de Pass, and costumes by Stanley Simmons - is completely new.
The scenery shifting and changing onstage to offer here a glen and there a village, is imaginative and works like a charm.
De Mille's choreography, notably the Sword Dance, the Chase, and the keening dance of mourning have been delicately preserved and I am glad to see that the kind of La Sylphide classic dance that had been inserted has been removed.
Matalon's staging, lively and naturalistic, gives the musical an unusually flowing movement, and the performances prove strong and vigorous.
It is a young cast. Martin Vidnovic makes a broodily realistic hero, and sings with a big, well-focused voice, while Meg Bussert is most beguiling as the girl he falls in love with. Stephen Lehew and Mollie Smith seem convincingly dew-struck as the younger lovers while Mark Zimmerman negligently charms as the hero's friend, and Frank Hamilton proves a model of moral integrity as the old Schoolmaster.
Of course, in more than any other musical before West Side Story, the dancing is of prime importance in Brigadoon. Indeed, the villain of the piece, the frustrated Harry Beaton, is simply a dancing role with a few lines of dialogue.
This was here played by John Curry, the Olympic gold medalist skater, making his Broadway debut, without his skates. He showed considerable romantic presence, danced crisply, and gave the famous Chase scene, where the villagers are trying to prevent him from reaching the outside world, a haunted, hunted despair.
Some may find Brigadoon, even after 33 years let alone two centuries, somewhat dated. Certainly, these are scarcely sentimental times, and faith is at a premium. Yet, the musical's delights and charms remain unabated and its sentiments unabashed.
"Brigadoon," the 1947 Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical, may be about a Scottish miracle, but its new revival offers a miracle that is pure Broadway. When the show's romantic leads, Meg Bussert and Martin Vidnovic, come together late in Act I to declare their love, they at once send the audience into the stratosphere of ecstasy and catapult themselves into the loftiest firmament of musical comedy performers. It's the kind of magic that can happen when young talent, a great song and plain old sexual chemistry all spring up in the same theater at the same time.
In "Brigadoon," it happens when Mr. Vidnovic, playing a New York tourist, returns from picking some heather from one of the show's misty, idyllic hills. This actor, an exemplary Jud in last season's "Oklahoma!" is now plainly a man in love. As he trots in with his basket of foliage, his feet have only a passing acquaintanceship with the ground. And it's a totally uncomplicated love, because no one has yet told him that his dream girl lives in a spectral, 18th-century village that wakes up only one day each century. So Mr. Vidnovic, a coltish figure in jeans and a turtleneck, just starts singing in a big, rich voice: "What a day this has been! / What a rare mood I'm in! / Why, it's almost like being in love!" Suddenly, he's dancing, too - and with such springy abandon that we hardly even notice that his partner, a fellow tourist, is a lead-footed man.
Mr. Vidnovic gets a more fetching partner soon enough. As he flies into this second chorus, a door opens in a cottage above him, and out steps Miss Bussert. This actress, the charming Marian the Librarian of last spring's ill-fated "Music Man," is a demure young woman with wispy auburn hair, a hesitant grin and a voice that soars on a crystalline yet sugar-free sweetness. When she sings "Almost Like Being in Love," it's not almost like being in love. It's the real thing. One wonders if the Majestic has seen anything like her since Mary Martin and Barbara Cook held court in the 40's and 50's.
Lest we get too dizzy here - and be warned that Mr. Vidnovic and Miss Bussert may knock you senseless - it must be added that not all of "Brigadoon" is quite so airborne. As long as the stars are on stage - or the top-notch chorus is gliding through one of Agnes de Mille's dance numbers - the evening is beguiling. The rest of the time, including much of Act II, "Brigadoon" looks a bit arthritic around the joints. It's a fairly painless form of arthritis, but it does require patience.
The trouble is not with the score, which is lovely, or with the fairy-tale story, which still casts its spell. It's just that the whole show, which was the first Lerner and Loewe hit, must labor under the dated, elaborate conventions of old-fashioned musicals. Mr. Lerner's libretto not only tells of the time-warp romance between his two leads, but also provides a pair of ostensibly comic secondary lovers, as well as a scowling bad guy and several numbers about the nuptials of two exceedingly minor characters. Nor are these unwieldy elements too artfully integrated: Act I is almost all songs, while Act II is almost all dancing and plot.
The new production can't hide these weaknesses, but it usually makes them tolerable. Here, as in the revival of "Morning's at Seven," Vivian Matalon demonstrates a true affinity for the particular charms of vintage entertainments. His direction is straightforward and naturalistic even when he must contend with the musical's archest flights into fantasy. Presumably with the collaboration of Mr. Lerner, he has also done some judicious tampering with the original text: This "Brigadoon" has one less song ("My Mother's Weddin' Day"), some superb new Wally Harper vocal arrangements, an earlier intermission and updated dialogue. Though the evening is still too long and contains no big laughs, Mr. Matalon gives it precisely the light touch that was absent from Frank Dunlop's stately revival of Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot."
Miss de Mille's contribution to the show cannot be underestimated. Her dances, here recreated by James Jamieson, make gestures in the direction of the Highlands, but their stylized simplicity have the grace of classic American folk art. Like her choreography of "Rodeo" and "Oklahoma!" the ballets of "Brigadoon" are less innocent than one at first assumes. Miss de Mille has a way of tempering even her most romantic visions with a dark and explicit Freudianism.
At the Majestic, she is blessed with two talented female soloists, Mollie Smith and Marina Eglevsky, as well as John Curry, the balletic ice skater who is making his musical-comedy debut. Although Mr. Curry's acting doesn't redeem the evening's villain, his execution of Miss de Mille's famous sword dance is a fine display of delicate physical agility.
With the exception of Elaine Hausman, whose pushy delivery wrecks Act I's comic number ("The Love of My Life"), the rest of the cast does well, too. Stephen Lehew brings a full voice to "I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean" and "Come to Me, Bend to Me." The sprightly Frank Hamilton is a crusty joy as the village elder who explains that "when you love someone deeply, anything is possible."
Still, it's Miss Bussert and Mr. Vidnovic who most convince us that anything is possible - especially when they're sailing through songs like "Waitin' for My Dearie," "Heather on the Hill" and "From This Day On." This pair is so exciting that they really must have a modern romantic musical that's all their own. While they wait for someone to write them one, "Brigadoon" will amply serve as a delightful temporary haven.