Review: ‘Brigadoon’ at New York City Center

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I was about to resignedly sigh about another tired revival of a favorite musical from the Golden Age, when along came Brigadoon from the remarkable New York City Center “Encores!” series to force me to instantly retract. Instead I fling my hat in the air to welcome a brilliantly cast, directed, and choreographed example of same. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for just seven performances, and by the time you read this, it will have disappeared in a misty cloud, just as its mythical title town does, not to return for another 100 years.

The cast of Brigadoon. Photograph courtesy of New York City Center.

It’s astonishing that such a polished staging, with perfect work from every department, could have been rehearsed for only a week or two, and performed as though it had been through six weeks of polishing in tryout theatres. For starters, even the original production in 1947 could not boast of this level of principals and an ensemble of this sparkling elegance. The luminous Kelli O’Hara, the attractive and personable Patrick Wilson, the amazing triple-threat Robert Fairchild, the boisterous and highly comical Stephanie J. Block all top the performers who created their roles, and I know that because I vividly remember them all — David Brooks, Marion Bell, James Mitchell, and Pamela Britton. And they were fine, and the original was a great success in its day. But this is better.

Kelly O’Hara and Patrick Wilson. Photograph courtesy of New York City Center.

Choreographer/Director Christopher Wheeldon has once again taken material with which many of us are familiar, and infused it with his vision which is clear, surprising, and beautiful to behold. He worked his magic two seasons ago with the stage version of MGM’s film of the Gershwins’ An American In Paris. His leading players at “Encores!” have powerful and luscious voices and acting chops sufficient to bring each character to equally lustrous fulfillment. Hearing Patrick Wilson and Kelli O’Hara, instantly attracted to each other, and almost as instantly falling in love, recalls when youth, beauty, and talent combined with command brought us the performing icons whom we remember all our lives. “Almost Like Being in Love,” “The Heather on the Hill,” “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” bring joy to our eyes and ears. Robert Fairchild acts the supporting role of Harry Beaton with great strength, and finally dances it so thrillingly that he brings the first act curtain down with stunning effect. But every number lands with success by Stephanie Block and the Men and Women of Brigadoon who bring Frederick Loewe’s gorgeous melodies back to their deserved place in the short list of classical scores from the time when music on Broadway could move an audience to emotional heights, and lyrics could entertain, educate, and inform with their wit and their wisdom. It was all there on stage at City Center this past weekend for seven performances only. One can only hope it was recorded and one day soon we’ll all be able to share in its many delights.

Sound designer Scott Lehrer deserves great credit for augmenting sound brilliantly. No harshness, no distortion–proof once again that that sort of thrill is still available to current audiences. 59 Productions Scenery and Projections make ingenious use of a long ramp running from the height at stage left, all the way to the ground at center stage. This leaves the orchestra in full view always behind the ramp, but Ken Billington’s lighting design allows the musical’s action to play downstage and in a piece of daring direction lent more admiration to the staging. It also brought Berman a moment to remind us that he was doing a brilliant job conducting a 29-piece orchestra that would have had Frederick Loewe beaming with satisfaction.

This was a special “Encores!” called a “Gala Presentation” with Jack Viertel attached as Artistic Advisor. Only one regret do I have — that neither Alan Jay Lerner nor Frederick Loewe nor Agnes deMille, whose original choreography greatly influenced the work of Mr. Wheeldon, were still among us to revel in this magnificent production of their beautiful original musical.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Brigadoon played November 15 – 17, 2017 at New York City Center’s Main Stage – 131 W 55th Street in New York, NY. For tickets to other New York City Center Productions, call the box office at (212) 581-1212 or purchase them online.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.