Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The first Mainstage Series musical theater production of the 2004/2005 Season at the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM) is Brigadoon. This whimsical tale made its Broadway debut in 1947, and CCM's staging boasts a re-creation of the original choreography by Agnes de Mille, as well as their usual pool of exceptionally talented student performers.
Brigadoon is the story of two brash American guys who, while hunting in the Scottish Highlands in the mid-1940s, come upon a magical town that comes alive for only one day every hundred years. There they find love, and they must decide whether to stay in Brigadoon forever or return to the United States. This musical was the first hit for the writing team of Lerner and Loewe, and demonstrated their abilities that would be put to even greater use in My Fair Lady and Camelot in later years.
Alan Jay Lerner's book for Brigadoon is a fanciful story filled with lots of romance, conflict and charm. Though too formulaic and sentimental by contemporary standards, the plot holds up well thanks to solid and thoughtful writing, and the use of fantasy. The musical contains many lush melodies from Frederick Loewe, coupled with intelligent and unobtrusive lyrics from Lerner. This is a truly old-fashioned musical score with exquisite romantic ballads such as "Almost Like Being in Love" and "The Heather On the Hill," as well as some nice choral material.
This production of Brigadoon is sung with such vocal beauty and, combined with the well executed dancing, demonstrates the abilities of the wonderful cast. Kristine Reese's soaring soprano is delightful, and she is quite endearing as Fiona. As Tommy, Michael Lowe likewise supplies a commanding singing voice, but his portrayal would benefit from a bit more spark in the level of conviction for his love of Fiona. As Tommy's friend Jeff, Adam Wagner is a superb comic foil with the fine delivery of a great deal of droll sarcasm. Brian Sears wraps his lovely tenor voice around "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" and "Come To Me, Bend To Me," and scores well with his warm depiction of Charlie, the bridegroom. As the aggressively lovelorn Meg, Jen Temen displays an impressive belt but pushes a bit much in her delivery of the humor of the role. Ben Magnuson, Denis Lambert, and Gabriel Ford do well in playing the more mature characters. Skillfully delivering the bulk of the challenging dancing are Joseph Medeiros, Savannah Wise, and Stephanie Gibson. The ensemble captures the carefree nature of the villagers with aplomb.
Especially intriguing about this production is the reproduction of the original Agnes de Mille choreography by Gemze de Lappe, a cast member from the 1947 debut production. With her lifelong association with the work of de Mille, de Lappe brings historical significance and experience to the production, and allows the audiences of 2004 to view these dances from American theater's most legendary choreography. The dances express a depth of emotion that would be difficult to communicate in any other way. Director Richard Hess makes the most out of the humor of the show and also creates an appropriate tone for each scene. His direction does, however, seem somewhat constrained at times, likely due to the need to stick to the original choreography. Roger Grodsky leads an orchestra of nearly forty musicians that produces as rich and full a sound as a musical theater audience is likely to hear anywhere.
CCM's Brigadoon has received its usual eye-popping design. The atmospheric set by Thomas C. Unfrid leaves plenty of room for the dancing. It features four proscenium arches, woodsy branches overhead and several facades, including a beautifully rendered church. The costumes by Rebecca Senske bring a kaleidoscope of colors to the stage, and Chad Bonaker's lighting captures just the right mood for the piece.
CCM's production of this 1940s classic is pleasant in every respect. The young cast is well prepared and talented, and the direction and design hit the necessary marks also. With a replication of the original de Mille choreography, this production should be uniquely of interest to Cincinnati audiences. Brigadoon ran from November 18-21, 2004.-- Scott Cain