The Highlands are alive


Music by Frederick Loewe; book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Directed by Kathleen Conry
St. Bart's Players
St. Bart's Playhouse, Park Ave. and 50 St. (212/378-0248)
Non-union production (closes November 23)
Review by David Mackler

The plot of Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon is almost unbearably precious. And except for the St. Bart's Players' occasional attempts to make it current (cellphones, mentions of Mapquest and Cosmopolitans), it is resolutely old-fashioned. But when those Lerner and Loewe songs are performed as brightly as they were here, and by a cast that is truly a company, the show -- well, it casts its spell.

Director Kathleen Conry did a bang-up job with everyone on stage. What a pleasure to see a chorus act its songs, each member with a bit of character business, but the whole sounding clear and solid. (The stage was most alive when the chorus was on it, doing their chorus thing.) But individual performers shone as well -- this being an old-style show, the romantic leads were set off by character turns, and Leslie Berry was a pip with her comic numbers "The Love of My Life" and "My Mother's Wedding Day." The ingenue and juvenile lovers, Adam Dodway and Elizabeth Gravitt were appropriately fresh-faced and charming; the leading lady, Amy Daley; was lovely and charming and had a first-rate voice; the leading man, Brad Negbaur, was guileless to just the right degree, so that questions about the plot were kept in abeyance.

But most glorious of all was Scott Ethier's musical direction, and the small orchestra playing under his baton. Music this good will float even if played badly, but here it soared, and the singing rose to the opportunity. Brigadoon is also a dance musical, with choreography originally by Agnes DeMille. Choreographer Lori Leshner made wise choices with her cast and her dances, with, for example, the dance for "Come to Me, Bend to Me" as fine, heartfelt, and well-performed as any Brigadoon set on a bigger stage, or with a bigger budget.

Brigadoon's plot is something of a bastard child of Oklahoma! and Lost Horizon, and more than a little suspicious if you stop to think about it. A miracle requested, and granted, keeps a town untouched by progress, leaving it pure -- well, except for Harry (Levi Morger), the dour, brooding, unchosen suitor of the ingenue, and you just know how things will end for him -- but as metaphors go, it's quite a lulu, and quite a fantasy. Too bad the plot exposition of the miracle wasn't set to music, because even though delivered by Mr. Lundie (Bill McEnaney) as believably and thoughtfully as possible, it's really the music that makes Brigadoon magic.

So don't pity Negbaur and his saturnine sidekick Jeff (Joe Gambino) too much -- although they have to shoulder the burden of the plot (and function as audience stand-ins), they free the rest of the cast to exult in musical comedy heaven. The wonderfully effective set (by Joseph J. Eagan) of trees and rocks set the scene with the right balance of fantasy and reality, and it looked treacherous enough to make for a creditable chase across the moors. Costumes (by Alan Michael Smith) were a plethora of plaid, and the color was welcome.

And for a cast of Americans, they managed the Scottish brogue admirably. 'Tis sure enough the audience will be speakin' with a Highland lilt afore New York works its way back into consciousness. Heather on the hill indeed.

Also (gloriously) with Ashley Eichbauer, Michele Lee, Bradford Harlan, Ulises Giberga, Richard Spector, Doug Cochrane, Kanani Titchen, and Mike Tietz as the bagpiper, whose notes resounded long after the final curtain.

  Box Score:

Music 2/Lyrics 2/Book 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 David Mackler