Brigadoon, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe. Directed by Rob Richardson.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...a man who had never known a love that was all his own."
Facile statement number one: Ignorance is bliss. If you’ve never known the musical "Brigadoon" which is now on stage at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, New York, you won’t necessarily understand how disappointing this production is for me. It has attractive people in short skirts and long ones. It has lyrical music and intelligent lyrics. What could be better?
Facile statement number two: Never expect perfection in summer stock shows. If you do know and love this show, as I do, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Facile statement number three: schools are not training young stage performers for traditional stage work. When those silly, and hard to ignore (read, "Not See") microphones, taped to ears, to cheekbones, to hairlines, fail so do the people wearing them. On Friday night I sat in the fourth row, about twenty feet from the stage. One actor over-modulated and in his major scene and his minor scene, both essential to the play, rendered his speeches totally non-understandable. One actor either lost her mike, or took it off, or it simply failed and the most delicious comic number became a mime show as the actress playing Meg Brockie could not be heard past the first row and sang and spoke with an accent so thick that the words were muddled anyway.
This should have been a delightful evening of musical theater and instead it was an outrageous failure. Does no one warm the voice any longer before going out on stage. So many of the performers sang off pitch, missed easy notes, and the occasional high ones. The opening number, "Down on MacConnachy Square" which usually sets the tone for any production had many handsome people singing in voices that didn’t carry across the room leaving the impression that the citizens of this small Scottish town, were sleep-singing. Where was the gusto and the vim and the vigor and the zest of it all?
Thankfully, two of the show’s best performers were cast in key roles. Caitlin Fischer played the heroine, Fiona MacLaren with charm and beauty and added a glorious singing voice to the mixture. As her future brother-in-law Charlie Dalrymple, Andrew McMath exposed his beautiful voice in two of the best songs ever written, "I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" and "Come To Me, Bend To Me." An evening with these two young actors would make a perfect theatrical experience.
As Fiona’s sudden beloved, Tommy Albright, actor James Benjamin Rodgers started off badly and improved throughout the evening, another example of why vocalizing can help. His initial offering was one with sour notes all the way through, but by the second act he was in a much more respectable place and his two duets with Fischer were wonderful.
The rest of this company did their best, I suppose, but dependence on a microphone and the man at the audio control panel does not compensate for training, preparation and a performance value that goes above and beyond phoning in a show.
Director Rob Richardson has a ways to go before attempting a show as emotionally fraught as this one again. When your principal characters have only one day in which to develop from strangers to everlasting lovers there must be a dramatic build and there was little of the human drama on display in this production. People said lines and moved around in a circle, but Lerner was a good dramatist as well as a superb lyricist and two weeks is not really enough time to develop those nuances and growth he worked into this script. It would seem, and note the "seem" please, that more time was spent in staging musical numbers that in developing characters.
And that was with the aid of choreographer Mario Martinez who does a decent, but not great, job of putting together credible Scottish dance routines. Parker Krug, as the disgruntled Harry Beaton, took on the famous Sword Dance with a relatively easy set of moves and still managed to stir the noisy steel pot with awkward foot work.
Good costumes by Dale DiBernardo (although Fiona could have used a third costume for the final scene) and a workable set with a great set of wall-paintings by Erin Kiernan help this production. Andrew Gmoser’s lighting was most effective in the Chase Scene and the Wedding Scene. Musical Director Josh D. Smith and his assistant Andrew Kreigh played more wrong notes than I have ever heard in a single performance before this one.
If you have to say "no" to one show this summer, my current choice would be this one. That is unless you have an urgent need to discover two great talents. I’m glad I saw and heard them. I just wish I could have suffered from Facile Statement Number One.
Caitlin Fischer and James Benjamin Rodgers; photo: provided
Andrew McMath and Heather Siemienas; photo: provided
Down on MacConnachy Square; photo: provided
Brigadoon plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Route 203, south of Chatham, NY through July 1. For information and tickets call 518-392-9292.