Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Following up their successful 110 in the Shade at the Pasadena Playhouse with Brigadoon for Reprise, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley look to be positioning themselves as the next first couple of American theatre - or perhaps, the first couple of American theatre revivals. And although this Brigadoon isn't quite the perfect show for them, it will certainly help solidify their reputation as the go-to pair.
As expected, there are no complaints about their singing. Mazzie brings her powerful soprano to the party, while Danieley answers with a remarkably light vocal touch. And their full-throttle ending to "Almost Like Being in Love" is alone worth the price of admission.
Where things go slightly awry is with characterization. The 20th-century-modern-man-who-falls-in-love-with-an-18th-century-farm-girl plot is a little far-fetched, and Mazzie and Danieley can't seem to get a solid handle on it. Mazzie, in particular, seems out of her depth. She begins with a fiesty, "Waitin' For My Dearie," which establishes her Fiona as a strong woman who wants the perfect man - but would be happy alone if she can't find him. But after a single scene of equally fiesty flirtatiousness with Danieley's Tommy, that character disappears. Lerner's book gives Fiona too many lines where she keeps commenting on how sweet something or other is, and Mazzie hasn't yet figured out how to incorporate these little asides into a Fiona dazzling enough to capture Tommy's eye.
Danieley fares somewhat better. He has an ease of movement and delivery that are reminiscent of Gene Kelly - Danieley conveys the impression that he might slip into a soft-shoe step at any moment. This casual grace serves him well; he's completely plausible as a leading man in a show taking place in 1947. But he too has trouble with selling Brigadoon's plot, which requires him to fall in love with a complete stranger in the space of one day. Tommy is the Romeo of the piece - he starts the show thinking he's in love with someone, but once he meets the right woman, he realizes he's never known what love really is. And although Danieley reads the lines, sings the songs, and kisses the girl convincingly, he doesn't show us the transformative power of finding one's true love.
And then there's Deborah Gibson as Meg. Gibson is nearly unrecognizable until she starts singing and lets loose a trademark power note. It's both a good and bad thing. There's no denying Gibson can sing the hell out of a song; but Gibson's voice has a pop sensibility which immediately dispels any suggestion that Meg is a 18th century girl. And Gibson's barefoot hussy doesn't hit the right combination of bawdy likeability; she just seems, well, a little nuts.
Others in the cast are absolutely terrific with the book. Larry Cedar, as Tommy's cynical best friend, provides both a voice of reason and a voice of comic relief. Orson Bean gives a surprisingly straightforward performance as Mr. Lundie - the man who explains the mystery of Brigadoon to Tommy. Bean never once breaks character or attempts a wink at the audience; he's simply the kindly avuncular fellow who believes in miracles. Also noteworthy is Brooks Almy as Mrs. Beaton. Almy's Scottish accent is solid (unlike many others in the cast), and she convincingly creates a character for herself while delivering an awful lot of exposition.
Another place this Brigadoon succeeds is on its feet. Choreographer Lee Martino provides a good mix of theatrical adagio and Scottish-flavored dance steps, and the small ensemble nicely fills the equally small stage. Kim Mikesell stands out as the dancer in this company, long before her second-act solo.
As a Reprise! production goes, Brigadoon is something of an odd duck. This is clearly one of their less expensive productions, in which the focus is on the score and nothing else. The orchestra is huge and takes up half the stage. (Evan A. Bartoletti's set, such as it is, consists of a few props and some long sheets of fabric.) Alex Jaeger's costumes are simple -- and, with few exceptions, everyone seems to have just one. (And those that are here aren't entirely well thought out. One character's veil keeps wrapping around her as she tries to dance.) Reprise! has done many of these "shoestring" style productions and they've been successful, because they sold the score so well nothing else mattered. Brigadoon isn't quite like that. While its solo numbers and duets are nearly all terrific, the ensemble numbers are not. The ensemble voices join prettily, but not spectacularly, and often not intelligibly. Indeed, the ensemble is more memorable for its dance than its song, which is very unusual for Reprise! indeed.
Reprise! Broadway's Best -- Marcia Seligson, Producing Artistic Director; Jim Gardia, Managing Director - presents Brigadoon. Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; Music by Frederick Loewe. Original dances created by Agnes de Mille. Scenic Design Evan A. Bartoletti; Costume Design Alex Jaeger; Lighting Design Tom Ruzika; Sound Design Philip G. Allen; Associate Music Director Bill Newlin; Music Coordinator Joe Soldo; Technical Director Peter Falco; Casting Director Bruce H. Newberg, C.S.A; Production Stage Manager D. Adams; Press Representative David Elzer/Demand PR; Company Manager Danny Feldman; General Manager Kelly Estrella. Produced by Marcia Seligson; Music Direction by Gerald Sternbach; Choreographed by Lee Martino; Directed by Stuart Ross.
Brigadoon continues at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA through August 29, 2004. For tickets and information, see www.reprise.org