Review: BRIGADOON (Shaw Festival)

by Lynn on July 5, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Music by Frederick Loewe

Original dances created by Agnes DeMille

Revised book by Brian Hill

Directed by Glynis Leyshon

Music direction by Paul Sportelli

Choreography by Linda Garneau

Set by Pam Johnson

Costumes by Sue LePage

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Projections by Corwin Ferguson

Sound by John Lott

Cast: David Ball

Peter Fernandes

Kristi Frank

Élodie Gillett

Kyle Golemba

Alexis Gordon

Patty Jamieson

Jane Johanson

Krystal Kiran

Madelyn Kriese

George Krissa

Julie Lumsden

Marie Mahabal

Stewart Adam McKensy

Peter Millard

Mike Nadajewski

Matt Nethersole

Drew Plummer

Travis Seetoo

Genny Sermonia

Gabriella Sundar Singh

Jacqueline Thair

Michael Therriault

Jay Turvey

Kelly Wong

Jenny L. Wright

Not Even a GPS could make sense of the geography of director Glynis Leyshon’s confusing, muddy direction.

The Story. It’s set in the Highlands of Scotland and New York City, 1946. Tommy Albright and his good friend Jeff Douglas have come to Scotland to have one last fling before Tommy gets married in New York City. He and Jeff fought in WWII, were shaken by the experience and are in Scotland for relaxation and some hunting. They discover the magical, mysterious village of Brigadoon. It’s not on their map. They discover that it appears for one day every hundred years. Tommy also discovers and is smitten by Fiona MacLaren, a young woman of the town. They fall in love. But she can’t leave Brigadoon to follow him because that would mean the town will never get up from its hundred years slumber and will disappear forever. Tommy reluctantly goes home to his fiancé where he has to consider what is more important: marrying the rich boss’s daughter or follow his heart and stay in Brigadoon to be with Fiona.

The Production. Pam Johnson’s set of the Scotland forest and the village of Brigadoon is surprisingly dull in browns and dark greens. There is no sense of the magic of that place. Corwin Ferguson has a projection of an animated deer appear on the scrim and then quickly flits off. The deer appears twice in succession. Then another projection of the American flag appears and dissolves into a scene of soldiers marching off to war. After that Tommy (George Krissa) and Jeff (Mike Nadajewski) appear stage right carrying rifles because they’ve come to Scotland to hunt and relax from the horrors of war.

Let’s pause here, shall we. Tommy is shaken by war and killing. Yet he comes to Scotland to hunt. He carries a rifle to do it as does Jeff. What is wrong with this picture? We are told that a revised book by Brian Hill was needed to ‘update’ Alan Jay Lerner’s version so that we can see how war has affected Tommy. In case we don’t get that message we need projections of a deer flitting and soldiers marching to help those deficient of an imagination. I’m getting a headache from gritting my teeth. Why doesn’t director Glynis Leyshon trust the audience to get it?

Miraculously Brigadoon appears in the forest. Tommy and Jeff can’t find it on the map. They decide to walk towards it. And then they both walk up the aisle of the theatre away from where the image of the village has appeared on stage.  Ok, I’m trying to suspend my disbelief here.

To make matters even more confusing, townsfolk walk down the aisle to the village. Honest, I am trying to suspend my disbelief.

Tommy and Jeff next appear back on stage walking towards the village where they join the folks in celebrating a wedding, meeting the citizens and in the case of Tommy, falling in love with Fiona MacLaren (Alexis Gordon). He wants to marry her but she can’t follow him to New York because that will be the end of Brigadoon. Tommy returns to New York and his fate. Or does he?

Trouble arises when a young man named Harry Beaton (Travis Seetoo) is thwarted in his love for Jean MacLaren (Madelyn Kriese). She is marrying Charlie Dalrymple (Matt Nethersole) and Harry expresses his anger at being shunted aside. He threatens to leave Brigadoon and thus end its existence. So Harry rushes up the aisle away from the Brigadoon (I must confess I asked myself, “where are you going? The parking lot? The ice-cream shop? Virgil? WHERE???). A few minutes later he appears on stage in the forest. Ok, I give up. I can’t suspend my disbelief, except at how inept this production is directed and staged. Ridiculous.

Travis Seetoo as Harry then dances a mournful, lovely Scottish dance—graceful and elegant. But then he turns, trips over a small ledge and well he does himself a terrible, final injury. Graceful to dance but a ledge defeats him. Oy.

Linda Garneau’s choreography is one of the best aspects of this production. It’s lively, joyful, romantic and sensitive. It realizes the musical’s intentions every time there is dance. “Come to Me, Bend to Me” is particularly effective. Charlie wants to see Jean before the wedding. A definite no no. But she finally relents and they dance a pas de deux that is so sensitive and full of tenderness, especially the last embrace.

I do have a quibble that seems to be present across many classic musicals productions. A couple begin singing a tender love song to each other. In Charlie’s case he is initially singing to Jean through a closed door. But then he comes downstage and sings it to the audience and not the door, even when she comes out and stands behind him. I never understand why. Why doesn’t the song get sung to the person for whom it was meant? But what we have is the person upstage being sung to and the person singing the song, downstage, so the person upstage is looking at a back instead of into the eyes of the love. Nuts. Alexis Gordon is wonderful as Fiona MacLaren who falls in love with Tommy, the American. Gordon is winsome, bright, engaging and always makes the people with whom she is acting seem better. Alas this does not apply to George Krissa as Tommy. There is not that spark of attraction between them as there is for other characters. Krissa is strapping and sings well, but seems more comfortable when he is playing scenes with Mike Nadajewski who plays Jeff Douglas. Nadajewski has such variation as an actor. As Jeff he is cynical, sarcastic, witty, perceptive and street smart.

Comment: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote romantic musicals like no others. The music was lush and the lyrics were poetic, lyrical and touched the heart. What can be more romantic and heart squeezing than a musical about two people who fall in love who are from two different worlds, and for whom one must make the ultimate sacrifice to leave everything behind to be with that one true love. For that fierce love look no further than Brigadoon. How disappointing them that the Shaw Festival’s production of Brigadoon is plodding, dull, gloomy, geographically confusing and too often devoid of the tingle of romance, in spite of some fine performances.The Shaw Festival Presents:

Began: May 5, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 13, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes.

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