Lerner and Loewe’s 1947 fantasia Brigadoon contains all the familiar hallmarks of a seminal mid-20th century musical: romantic complications of a twee and slightly saucy nature between star-crossed lovers; choral works that indulge in swelling, swooning chromatics right out of an early Disney classic; and a kind of post-Hiroshima exhaustion that yearns, desperately and a bit naively, to escape the doomed rat race for simpler, more rustic times.
Of course, such yearning for lost innocence is always pertinent, but especially so in times of fervent social upheaval, making the timing of Actors Cabaret’s current production of Brigadoon rather felicitous (as was the company’s searing production of Cabaret last year). Like most musicals, this one promises an escape into pure escapism, and in this regard, ACE’s show is a success.
In Brigadoon, a strange breed of metaphysics compounds the magical realism that pervades so many musicals: A pair of Americans traveling in the Scottish highlands stumbles upon a mystical village that only appears once every hundred years. Hence, if you woke up tomorrow in 2118, and then the next day in 2218, you’d be experiencing something akin to the daily life of the frolicsome villagers of Brigadoon.
Of course, the astonished New Yorkers — the affianced Tommy Albright (Chad Lowe) and the drunkard Jeff Douglas (Colin Gray) — get all tangled up with the local girls, with varying results. Tommy, unhappy about his upcoming marriage, falls deeply in love with Fiona (Ashley Apelzin), a lovely lass who is sweetness incarnate. Jeff, a cynical urbanite, spends most of his time warding off the aggressive advances of the man-hungry Meg (Clarae Smith).
The question becomes: Will Tommy and Jeff decide to stay in the ephemeral village, or will they return to the modern world while Brigadoon disappears in the mist for another hundred years?
Complicating matters is the subplot of a love triangle involving Charlie (Sheldon Hall) and Jean (Emily Westlund), to be wed that very day, and Harry (Caleb Pruitt), the spurned lover whose jealous rage threatens to destroy the village and everyone in it.
Director Michael Watkins, a veteran of local theater, has a strong feel for the requirements of the mid-century musical, and he keeps things keenly orthodox and old-fashioned: The action is tightly choreographed, the dance routines are well-executed and the corny-sharp comedy is spot on, with all the cosmopolitan flair of a Technicolor talkie. As is often said, they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
The cast is well-chosen, especially the leads, who attack the dated material with the kind of confidence that makes those mid-century musicals still so alluring to us postmoderns (when I get really down at the mouth, I’ll cue up YouTube footage of Gene Kelly or Danny Kaye dancing). The singing is strong, both solos and choruses, and you might be surprised at how many of the numbers are familiar (for instance, “Almost Like Being in Love”).
Particularly noteworthy are a pair of performances that, together, strike just the right note, giving the whole show a sizzle and spark it might otherwise lack.
As Meg, the maiden who falls in love a bit too easily, Smith is wonderful. Her acting and singing are perfectly in sync, and she reveals a real knack for comedy — her chops and timing are impressive, especially in an actor so young.
As Meg’s besieged love interest, Gray is equally fun to watch. With his nasally asides and zingy one-liners, he evokes a sort of old-fashioned cad of the Mad Men variety, all dissipation and disregard. Watching him, I immediately thought of Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch; he’s got that same well-groomed desperate chic, like an olive rolling around in an empty martini glass.
As a pure piece of Broadway escapism, ACE’s Brigadoon is a pip. It ain’t deep, and it ain’t heavy, neither, despite the implications of its rather wonky premise. It is meant to make you feel good, with just a tinge of bearable sadness. Watkins and company execute the material admirably, creating — like the village itself — a momentary wisp of mist that you are tempted to enter forever.
Then again, who wants to wake up tomorrow in 2118? Not me. 2019 looks bad enough from here.
Brigadoon plays through April 7 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene; info and tickets at actorscabaret.org or 541-683-4368.