Thursday, November 5, 2009
I walked home last night through the street of Manhattan singing “The Heather on the Hill.” Not just in my head, but out loud, so charmed was I by Blue Hill Troupe’s enchanting production of Brigadoon. In our age of darker, more cynical musicals, Brigadoon could seem dated and silly, but this cast, under the direction of Tony Parise, makes it fresh and alive.
At the start I was afraid I would be seeing a Blue Hill production that fell short of the excellence I’ve come to expect from this group. The Scottish accents are so heavy I could hardly understand a word of dialogue. Luckily either I became accustomed or the accents lighten and for the rest of the show I understood most of the words. Still, I wish Parise had sought just slight accents so all of the words and songs could be understood.
That, though, is my only complaint. Brigadoon, which premiered on Broadway in 1947, is a delightful story -- with Frederick Loewe’s music and Alan Jay Lerner’s book and lyrics -- of two American men who stumble on a wee village in the Scottish Highlands that only comes alive for one day every 100 years.
On this particular day, a wedding is to take place between Jean MacLaren (an appealingly girlish Alison Plotkin) and Charlie Dalrymple, brought to thrilling life by Matt Hughes. It is a joy to watch him sing and dance “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” with the men of the company and hear his tender duet “Come to Me, Bend to Me” with Plotkin. A magnetic performance.
The two men who happen upon this mysterious little world, Tommy Albright (John C. Taylor) and Jeff Douglas (Geoff Gaebe) are nice foils for each other. Gaebe, playing the more cynical of the two, displays nice comic timing and Taylor brings to life two of the shows most beautiful songs, “The Heather on the Hill” and “Almost Life Being in Love.” He is joined on these by Jennifer Dorre as Fiona MacLaren, Jean’s sister. As in last year’s Into the Woods, when she played the Baker’s Wife, Dorre is a standout, with her clear, soaring voice and sparkling personality.
It’s not just the principals, though, who are strong. Every member of the company sings well and, with Parise’s excellent choreography, moves and dances fluidly around the tiny stage at the Theatre at St. Clement’s. And they even give us a rousing jig for the curtain call!
Good work also by Cristina Milleur (set design), Sarah Mahr (costume design) and Gordon R. Stanton (lighting design).
The behind-the-scenes orchestra, with musical direction by Matthew W. Rupcich, is first rate. And, what a treat -- a bagpiper from the New York Scottish Pipes & Drums.
Blue Hill Troupe, Ltd. is the only musical theater group in New York City to donate its net proceeds to charity; it has given more $3 million to local charities since its inception in 1924. This year, its 86th season, the recipient is a cause close to my heart, the New York Foundling’s Mott Haven Academy's Arts and Music Program, which enables students to participate regularly in dance, music, visual arts and theater. The New York Foundling, begun and run by the Sisters of Charity of New York, of which I am an associate member, has evolved over the last 140 years into one of the city's oldest and largest social service agencies, today serving more than 13,000 of New York's neediest children and families.
Brigadoon plays through Saturday at the Theatre at St. Clement's, 46th Street between Ninth and 10th Avenues. For more information about the Blue Hill Troupe, Ltd., contact Joanne Lessner at (212) 222-7436 or visit www.bht.org.
(Photo by John Sutera/Blue Hill Troupe, (c) 2009.)