Kevin Early and Jennie Sophia in Goodman's revival of Lerner and Loewe's musical classic, Brigadoon (photo by Liz Lauren).
July 11, 2014 - A decades-old musical comes roaring back to life in The Goodman Theatre’s freshly updated production of the Lerner and Loewe classic, Brigadoon. Rewritten at the behest of Alan Jay Lerner’s daughter, Brigadoon features vibrant choreography and direction from Rachel Rockwell, a revised book by Brian Hill, and a 28 person cast full of the verve and passion this romantic legend begs for.
Though there’s been much talk about the updates planned for this production, the “new and improved” Brigadoon still stays very true to its roots. Fiona and Tommy still fall in love; Brigadoon remains a village that reappears only once every hundred years; and the gorgeous score that made the musical famous is as enchanting as ever. The changes are minor—streamlined dialogue, a little less dancing—and will likely be unnoticeable unless audiences have actually performed in or worked behind the scenes on a production.
What audiences will notice are the absolutely soaring voices of not only the lead actors but the entire ensemble. From the show-stopping end of “Almost Like Being in Love” to the tight, haunting harmony in “Waitin’ for My Dearie,” the music is both powerful and enchanting. Jennie Sophia brings not only her serious pipes to the role of Fiona, but a healthy dose of honesty and some fine acting chops. Kevin Earley’s Tommy is appropriately aloof at the top of the show and allows his voice to melt away the façade as Tommy falls under Brigadoon’s spell.
The rest of the ensemble are equally compelling—most notably Jordan Brown as Charlie Dalrymple. His “Come to Me, Bend to Me” is one of the loveliest moments in the production in part because Brown’s voice is so well-suited to the song and in part because he and Olivia Renteria (as Jean, Charlie’s fiancée) understand the story they’re telling and act the song and choreography with ample nuance and tenderness.
One of the most noticeable tweaks in this new production is Rockwell’s healthy injection of traditional Scottish dance. Though incredibly entertaining to watch on its own (and the cast does a brilliant job of executing some difficult choreography), the movement goes beyond mere entertainment and adds to the overall authenticity of the production, highlighting the culture and furthering the stories of the characters inhabiting Brigadoon. They seem that much more three-dimensional, and this old chestnut of a musical feels lively, relatable, and deserving of its place in the classic American musical theater canon.
Most of what The Goodman team has done in their efforts to revitalize Brigadoon works beautifully and organically. Moments that divert from the brilliance of this new revival inadvertently take us out of the simple world of Brigadoon. In particular, a bit of choreography in a key moment was a tad too overwrought. Also, the use of very literal projections to show various locations proved distracting and inconsistent with the visual vocabulary of the show. These, however, are minor issues in a production full of beauty.
The Goodman’s Brigadoon is absolutely still a traditional book musical—the update didn’t change that, and it didn’t need to. A dose of polish, a lot of creativity, and a group of incredibly talented performers are more than enough to give this old classic new life.
Brigadoon's run in Goodman Theatre's Albert Hall has been extended through August 17.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts