For singing, dancing, staging and lighting attributes, the East Carolina University School of Theatre and Dance’s current production of Brigadoon is full of pleasure from start to finish. An enthusiastic, energetic and talented cast, aided by top-level production values, highlights this tuneful stage fantasy and shows that the ECU/Loessin Playhouse delivers the goods in an area not otherwise served by professional or semi-professional theatrical performance.
Brigadoon was first big Broadway hit for Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. The story of two vacationing New Yorkers who stumble upon a strange village in the mist of the Scottish Highlands and discover its most unusual secret has romance, drama, comedy and some fine music. The village is unusual because it comes to life for one day every 100 years. The two visitors from the outside world quickly become caught up in the special wedding day that the village is celebrating.
In ECU’s production, the staging of the show is a highlight by itself, with sets and scenes centered on a stone bridge that serves as not just a focal point for exterior scenes but also as a house, a hut, and a kirk (church). Pieces of set descend to add trees, a rose window, and a roofline. Other pieces of set are village building exteriors, done in sharp foreshortening. Behind the movable scenery is a painted backdrop of Scottish hills and a lake which changes colors with well-managed lighting, designed by Tony Award-winning Howell Binkley; the production uses a fog machine to create the Highlands mist.
The cast is uniformly good, with some outstanding turns. The two main male singers — tenor Joseph Veale as Charlie Dalrymple, whose wedding is a driving force in the plot, and baritone Christopher Minor as Tommy Albright, one of two New Yorkers lost in the highlands who discover the village of Brigadoon — missed nary a note, with Veale’s singing of “Come to Me, Bend to Me” a particular highlight. Soprano Molly Deans added perhaps more of an operatic voice than stage musical voice as Fiona MacLaren, but she showed sincerity and emotion in her singing, especially “The Heather on the Hill” and “Almost Like Being in Love.” In a secondary role, Kate Blain as Meg Brockie injected great humor and spirit into “The Love of My Life” and “My Mother’s Wedding Day.” The large ensemble delivered fine choral singing in “Brigadoon” and “Down on MacConachy Square” and in other supportive roles.
The acting of Minor as Albright and John Barnick as fellow New Yorker Jeff Douglass seemed a bit stiff at the outset of the production, but they warmed up to their roles in short order and were quite good for the balance of the play. The rest of the cast with speaking roles did quite well affecting a Scottish brogue, and some had not only the pronunciation down pat (making the long “a” come out as a short “e,” for example, and adding the appropriate rolled “r”), but they also infused the right rhythm and lilt to speech patterns, without sounding too artificial. Tyler McAuley as Archie Beaton, for example, seemed to have the Scots dialect spot-on — but perhaps with his name, one should not be surprised?
The dancing was excellent, too. Amanda Klinikowski as Jean MacLaren, to whom Charlie Dalrymple is engaged, had extensive dancing responsibilities, not singing, and she and many of the “Village Lassies” performed lively ballet-oriented dance sequences with grace and beauty. Jigs and reels peppered the production, too, all carried off well, and the famous sword dance, featuring Veale, Alec Kelsey as Harry Beaton, and two others, was exciting, and the energy never flagged.
The production was accompanied by a more than a dozen instrumentalists who provided mostly solid backing to the musical numbers under the direction of Scott Carter of the ECU School of Music. A few pieces seemed a bit thin, and an occasional, if brief, pitch problem occurred here and there. And this production has its own piper, Steve Hawley, who introduced the play and who played the mournful tune at Harry Beaton’s death.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable production, one to savor, and one to remember. The phrase “only a college production” does not apply here.
The remaining Brigadoon performances are November 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. at McGinnis Theatre on the ECU campus in Greenville. For details, see our calendar.