Courtesy of The Encore Musical Theatre Company/Michele Anliker photography
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “Brigadoon” is a quirky little musical that not very often is given its due in the spotlight. Save for the 1954 Gene Kelly classic, I wager that if you surveyed your average theatergoer, they likely couldn’t tell you what this show is about. I walked into The Encore Musical Theatre Company’s production of “Brigadoon” feeling the same way: I’ve heard of this show, but I didn’t really know what it was.
Thankfully, the musical isn’t a hard one to follow and is a touch more mainstream in comparison to the company’s last production of “Next To Normal.” While “Normal” benefited from the issues it was bringing awareness too, “Brigadoon” seemingly goes back to the basics, a story about an outsider looking for acceptance, and - above all else - love.
An inspired and original show, at the rise we meet two squirrely lads from the states who have traveled to the Scottish Highlands before Tommy (Matthew Brennan - also the director) gets married. Except he and his drunken pal Jeff (Mark Gmazel) get lost and become entangled in some weird mythological fantasy where they hear strange music from afar, and come across a village that appears out of thin air.
That place is called Brigadoon, and when the two New Yorker's decide to check out their new found discovery, they notice something isn’t right about the inhabitants of this sleepy village. Why are the folks sporting traditional Scottish tartan? And why do they look confused when either Tommy or Jeff ask for directions or to use the phone? Idling their efforts, they decide to take in the sights and start growing a fondness for the wacky characters; including Andrew MacLaren (Dan Morrison - always fun to watch) who is marrying off his youngest daughter, Jean (Bryanna Hall) to Charlie Dalrymple (Patrick Wallace). This in spite of Harry Beaton’s (Jose Martinez-Chavarria) affection for Jean whom he is madly in love with.
It’s quite a bit to take in, but the way Brennan and his crew of technical designers have reconfigured the space within The Encore’s staging immediately gives you the feeling you’re part of the action. Actors will march up through the isles, maybe offer you some candy, and basically invite you to the wedding. I never thought it would be possible to make The Encore’s space more intimate, but I stand corrected. Though the real meat of the show’s narrative steams from Tommy catching the attention of Fiona (Allison Hunt-Kaufmann - exquisite) but unseen forces could prove a challenge for the love birds.
The creation of Brigadoon is rather fascinating and hearing its origin breath to life on stage proves an intriguing plot device. What’s more intriguing is how intricate, big, and boisterous all the performers are as they waltz in and out of their village (sporting thick and authentic Scottish accents too). Lowe and Lorner’s book is one of the best I’ve seen for an ensemble cast, as each character gets a moment or two to shine, while supporting players (most notably Meg Brockie played with scene stealing magnificence by Rachel Cupples) get to have their own rendezvous with love.
It’s not all perfect as some characters, as written, don’t have the spunk or urgency others provide. To me, Gmazel, a solid performer for sure, isn’t given much rope in terms of Jeff’s reactionary tendencies (I’ve never liked characters whose only purpose is to provide zippy one liners and act as the town drunk and “Brigadoon” continues to make the case as to why that is). And while much is made of The Encore’s new set-up, I wish Jason Maracani’s lighting design had been polished more, I noticed several instances where I couldn’t see actors faces (in rather dramatic settings) and it took me out of the moment.
Still, resident costumer designer Sharon Larkey Urick continues to add credibility to The Encore’s reputation of polished costume work in the region, and Tyler Driskill’s music direction is noteworthy when you see how the orchestra isn’t anywhere near the stage and basically has to eyeball what’s supposed to be happening. And credit is owed, as always, to Agnes Demille who created the original dances and they’ve aged in a way that doesn’t feel conventional as they are woven into a pattern of enchantment. And this company has every timing variable down to the second, punctuated by a catalog of tunes that soar in The Encore’s environment.
“Brigadoon” manages to infuse its rather predictable love story with a sense of marked originality, and The Encore creates a tantalizing song and dance trifecta that has given the residents of the neighboring communities a solid reason to venture out and support local theatre, and this cast does a solid job at convincing you that if there isn’t a village named Brigadoon, there should be. Granted, this isn’t a show that lives in the pathos of Broadway’s biggest gems, but the admiration and attention to detail shouldn’t go unnoticed.
And finally, what’s most impressive about this particular production of “Brigadoon” is how director Matthew Brennen - after some behind the scenes shake ups - was called upon at the eleventh hour to fill the shoes of Tommy. Brennan literally had two days to get his lines and music locked before staging the show for its theatrical run, and it’s that type of earnestness and devoted craftsmanship that, ironically, is what “Brigadoon” is all about. While we probably will never know what the original Tommy brought to the role, you could see this cast rallied around Brennan, and their spark is apparent in the opening minutes of the show. Grab your passports, this is one enchanting location you need to visit.
IF YOU GO:
The Encore Musical Theatre's production of "Brigadoon" runs through May 19th 2019. To purchase tickets and see showtimes, you can call (734-268-6200) or purchase tickets online by clicking here