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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Brigadoon is a Bonnie Musical

Also see Richard's reviews of Harold & Maude and Golda's Balcony

Brigadoon
Karen DeHart and Cast Members
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe's musical fantasy Brigadoon is currently playing at the Smithwick Theatre at Foothill College in the Los Altos Hills for Foothill Music Theatre. The Canadian Scottish use the term "Brigadoonery" for anything that is grotesquely Scottish-like but well-intentioned and essentially harmless. Well, this musical is charmingly harmless with some great dancing and lovely lilting songs that have become standards.

I first saw Brigadoon in the late spring of 1947 at the Ziegfeld Theatre, with Marian Bell playing Fiona and David Brooks playing Tommy. James Mitchell and a very young Helen Gallagher were in the cast. I was enchanted by the production since I had just been discharged from the armed forces - I was looking for fantasy, and I certainly found it that night. I also have fond memories of visiting the very large MGM film set of the "ghost town" in 1954 and watching Gene Kelly direct the choreography for the sword dance scene (this was cut from the final showing but is now on the DVD). The last time I saw the musical was the New York Opera production with Judy Kaye, Rebecca Luker and Brett Barrett. That production ran almost 3 hours due to the extensive use of ballet and dancing that went on and on and on.

Director Jay Manley and choreographer Tyler Risk decided to go with the New York Opera Production, with a 90-minute first act. The superb dancing in this production is as good as seen in any Broadway show. Matthew Brandon Hutchens as the bridegroom Charlie Dalrymple leads the dancers with some wonderful acrobatic Highland flings. This young man, who recently graduated from NDNU, has matured from his passionate teenage chorus dancing with 42nd Street Moon and Broadway By the Bay to a mature level of acting and singing. With his agility, he can be a top dancer in any show in the future (he has been cast in White Christmas this year at the Orpheum Theatre). Brigadoon has now become an "operetta" where dancing dominates the stage.

The show is based on a story by Friedrich Gerstacker, but the location is changed from Germany to the Highlands of Scotland. Two American hikers, Tommy (Tim Reynolds) and Jeff (Ray Renati), get lost while wandering through the heather in the hills and come across a strange village called Brigadoon. It appears that this village became enchanted centuries ago; the community remained unchanged and invisible to the outside world except for one special day every hundred years when it can be seen and visited by outsiders. Visitors might be allowed to stay, but if anyone ever leaves the village, the miracle would be broken and that would be the end of them all. During that one day, love blooms between Tommy and Fiona (Michele C. Johnston) while Meg (Karen DeHart) chases Jeff around for a little roll in the heather. There is the jealous Harry (Steve Edlund) lusting over Jeanie (Lisa Schwebke) who is intended to Charlie (Matthew Brandon Hutchens), and a great dramatic scene toward the end of the production where Harry attempts to kill Charlie. All of this takes place in the short span of three hours, with a lot of dancing and singing, and a 15 minute intermission.

Brigadoon is loaded with great songs that have been become standards, like "The Heather on the Hill," "There But For You, Go I" and "Almost Like Being in Love." The distinctive lilting melodies are beautiful and remind us how musicals were written before Andrew Lloyd Webber took over the stage with his simpler one note scores. Brigadoon is seldom produced today, probably because many think it is just old fashioned and not relevant to the current times. This is a marvelous production with over 50 singers and dancers and splendid sets; it is a real old fashioned crowd pleaser.

Tim Reynolds (Guys and Dolls) seems a little too old for Tommy; he plays a mature man wise to the ways of the world and seems like a man who would not fall in love so easily. However, Reynolds has an excellent voice when singing "Heather on the Hill" and "Almost Like Being in Love," with Michele C. Johnson (many appearances in community theatre in Bay Area). Ms. Johnson's voice is a little thin but her duets with Tim are pleasurable; their voices blend well together.

Ray Renati (Sweeney Todd, Ragtime) as Tommy's New York side kick underplays the role but is effective in the part. Karen DeHart (Guys and Dolls) is wonderful as Meg Brockie, a feisty and horny young woman chasing Jeff. She does sing the very funny "My Mother's Weddin Day" a bit too fast. Matthew Brandon Hutchens (West Side Story, White Christmas) has the perfect brogue. His dancing and singing of "Come to Me, Bend to Me" is champion. Lisa Schwebke (sophomore at NYC majoring in Vocal Performance) as Jean the bride is a bonnie lass with a lovely voice and graceful dance moves. Steve Edlund (has played numerous roles and will study theatre at USC this fall) is very good, and his dancing is excellent, as Jean's sullen and spurned suitor Harry Beaton, a proud but tormented man in love with the wrong person, and his sword dance is tremendously exciting. John Musgrave (has appeared in seven productions at Foothill) as Mr. Lundie has a Scottish accent you could cut with a knife. T.J. Kuster (regular performer at 42nd Street Moon) gives a good impression as the father of the neurotic Harry.

Jay Manley's direction is right on the mark, with scenes flowing together. He has given us an exciting and vibrant chase scene in the second act when Harry attempts to leave the village. He has also updated the two American actors to 2005, since they carry cell phones that don't work in the Scottish Highlands. And he brings an authentic bag piper into the second act. Tyler Risk's choreography is tops, with some very talented young persons dancing energetically, with kilts twirling madly.

Scenic Design by Joe Ragey is very "Brigadoonery," with a lovely, detailed fairy-tale set of the village with heather on a hill. Lighting by Kurt Landisman is wonderful, creating a natural environment for the stage, including a projected darkened sky warning of an impending storm, with thunder and lighting. Costumes by Janis Bergmann are very authentic and give the dancers free movement with a light material for the kilts.

As the line in the musical goes, "Everyone is searching for a Brigadoon," and you can find it at Foothill College.

Brigadoon run though August 14 at the Smithwick Theatre, Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. For tickets please call 650-949-7360 or visit www.foothillmusicals.com.


Photo: David Allen


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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