Last Spring I bought tickets to a "City Center Encore” of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s Brigadoon. City Center typically does “concert” stagings — that is minimal staging, some costuming, broad stroke choreography. After all, these shows run less than a week and don’t have much time for rehearsal. Stage actor union rules for staged readings were stated in the program — performers might have “scripts in hand.”
Not this time. This production was put together for a Gala on the Wednesday, so what I saw that Thursday night was highly polished.
A wonderful scrim separated the onstage orchestra from the action (sometimes down, sometimes not) on which projections showed NYC, Scotland, heather on the hills, a forest, all in watercolor softness, with soft or bold colors depending on the scene. Each scene was gorgeous, naturalistic without being in the slightest bit photographic. A steep rounded staircase representing any number of hills separated the onstage orchestra from the action (except when the conductor handed a branch of heather to Fiona).
Kelli O’Hara as Fiona has the voice of an angel but doesn’t leave it at that. She breathes life into her character — her Fiona is real and warm and alive.
Choreographer and director Christopher Wheeldon was respectful of the original Agnes DeMille choreography, which even I could recognize (women’s hands), but enhanced, streamlined, and strengthened it. The women dancers were delightful, and the men … Oh my....
Men in kilts. Dancing. Leaping. Twirling. Gasp.
Robert Fairchild (formerly of the NYC Ballet, who danced American in Paris, which I now regret not seeing just to have watched his performance) played the sad and angry “villain” of the piece, Harry Beaton, who is a much more interesting character than the Americans from the 20th century. Ballet dancers have played Harry in the past on stage, as well as in the film. Fairchild was magnificent, every movement sublime. He has not yet developed much vocal guts as an actor, but his body does it all.
As the second romantic lead, Charlie Dalrymple, Ross Lekites sings smoothly and sweetly. He sang two of my favorite songs, “Go Home With Bonnie Jean” and “Come to me, bend to me,” breaking my heart in the process and moving his fiancée Jean (Sara Esty) and her friends into their lyrical dance. Ms. Esty is not much a vocal presence, but that hardly matters. She was totally present and graceful, telling her love story with the lines of her body, giving Charlie and us her heart.
Stephanie J. Block was a big vocal presence as Meg Brockie, singing the hilariously tongue-twisting “Me Mother’s Wedding Day.” Once the Americans came to Brigadoon, Meg pined after Jeff, the sad-sack drunken friend of the leading man, Tommy. Aasif Mandvi played Jeff with wit and warm sarcasm. As the object of Meg’s affection/lust, Mandvi totally embodied this potentially depressing character all the way to his last moments onstage.
Patrick Wilson was Tommy, the romantic lead opposite Kelli O’Hara. I’m not a Wilson fan, I’m afraid. Whenever I’ve seen him he’s perfectly competent, he just doesn’t interest me. He did his job well here; a strong singer, performing fine duets with Fiona, and he actually did more than justice to the overly expository songs of the second act. I always enjoyed Gene Kelly’s depiction of Tommy in the movie, but then I always enjoy Gene Kelly. Perhaps the role is just poorly written.
Dakin Matthews was excellent as Mr. Lundie, who explains the (utterly absurd but who cares) premise of the play. Patricia Delgado was expressive as the woman who clearly wanted Harry Beaton and danced the thrilling funeral dance. This was far from morose, rather full of passion and very beautiful.
It was a truly joyous evening at the beautiful City Center.
~ Molly Matera, signing off still hearing the lovely music and thrilling to Robert Fairchild dancing in my dreams.