Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” arrived on Broadway in 1943, in the midst of World War II, and served as a rousing endorsement of America’s pioneering spirit and optimism. Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon” debuted in 1947, just two years after the war had ended. Listen closely to the rare and radiant Goodman Theatre revival of the musical that has been so fluidly directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell, and you will sense something less than triumphalism.
Tommy Albright (Kevin Earley), the young New Yorker who has returned from the war and is about to marry a wealthy socialite, is sick at heart. As Fiona MacLaren (Jennie Sophia), the perceptive woman he meets and falls in love with during a pre-wedding trip to the Scottish Highlands, observes, something in his soul seems to be lost.
As it happens, the inhabitants of the Scottish town of Brigadoon had their own harrowing experience with war two centuries earlier. And they are still paying the price by living under a protective spell that, since 1746, has allowed them to come to life for only one day every 100 years.
“Brigadoon” is a tragicomic romantic fairy tale full of real-life echoes. But mostly it is a vintage beauty — awash in gorgeous songs performed by a cast with heavenly voices, lush orchestrations, an exquisite blend of traditional Scottish dance and balletic storytelling, and a set that is a clever mix of old and new stagecraft. To be sure, it is a far cry from such contemporary shows as “The Book of Mormon” and “Jersey Boys.” And that might just be the secret of its charm.
Tommy and Jeff Douglas (Rod Thomas), his borderline alcoholic pal, are on a hunting trip in the Highlands when they get lost and wander into a town that does not appear on their map. What they initially take to be a folkloric festival turns out to be Brigadoon’s actual time-warped reality. And as wedding preparations get underway for one of the town’s young couples — playful ladies’ man Charlie Dalrymple (the hugely engaging Jordan Brown) and Fiona’s shy younger sister, Jean (Olivia Renteria, a lovely dancer) — the outsiders become enmeshed in an understandably intense, 24-hour-only lust for life.
While something magical, fiercely honest and restorative occurs between Tommy and Fiona, the emotionally detached Jeff fends off the relentlessly exuberant advances of milkmaid Meg Brockie (the wonderfully irrepressible Maggie Portman). Meanwhile, Harry Beaton (a darkly brooding Rhett Guter), desperate in his unrequited love for Jean, attempts the unthinkable — bolting from Brigadoon and breaking its protective spell — leaving Maggie Anderson (Katie Spelman, a scorching dancer), the woman who adores him, to grieve bitterly.
Earley and Sophia are beautifully understated actors with ravishing voices that soar in such classics as “Almost Like Being in Love” and “The Heather on the Hill,” with Sophia’s heart-piercing rendition of “From This Day On” and Earley’s fierce rendering of “There But For You Go I” both achingly beautiful.
Roberta Duchak’s musical direction, and a superb orchestra led by Valerie Maze, serve Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s dreamy score to perfection. Kevin Depinet’s set, with its thatched roof ruins and a permeable curtain of fog, is enhanced by Shawn Sagady’s thrilling projections. And the Brigadoonians are a formidable sight as they arrive in their clan attire (cheers for the tartan panoply of costume designer Mara Blumenfeld), and the town fathers — Larry Adams, Craig Spidle, Michael Aaron Lindner, Joseph Anthony Foronda and Roger Mueller — raise their powerful voices as the younger men dance with swords.
In the end, “Brigadoon” is an enchanting story of love and faith, driven by a heightened awareness of mortality. Call it a tale of hidden optimism.