Thursday, October 13, 2011

BRIGADOON: The Golden Age

Every two years the HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance and the HSU Department of Music collaborate on a big stage musical. Brigadoon is something of a departure from recent productions that were more contemporary in theme and style. A Broadway hit in 1947 and revived many times since, Brigadoon is considered a classic of the Golden Age of American musical theatre, usually designated as the 1940s to the 1960s—with Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot among the last of the Golden Age shows.

The Golden Age musical presented differently crafted songs in a different way than more recent musicals. The songs are tuneful and self-contained, designed to helplessly stay in the heads of hearers. This show has many, such as “From This Day On,” “Heather on the Hill,” “There But For You Go I,” “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” “Waiting for My Dearie,” the comic “The Love of My Life,” and the classic “Almost Like Being in Love.”

But these songs still embodied dramatic meaning in the play itself. That includes Brigadoon’s best known song. Solo artists from Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole to Natalie Cole and James Taylor have recorded “Almost Like Being in Love.” But in the play it is a duet between Tommy (the contemporary New Yorker) and Fiona (the Brigadoon woman.)  It not only advances the dramatic plot--it is a drama in itself.

The song begins with each of them alternating lines. Musical director Elisabeth Harrington describes what’s going on: "Tommy begins with a modern upbeat tempo: ‘What a day this has been/What a rare mood I’m in/ why, it’s almost like being in love,’ and then Fiona slows it down with her Scottish accent, and they trade lines back and forth until they’re singing in harmony. So these two styles of two cultures are blending together, as well as expressing two people falling in love.”

Brigadoon today is one of the lesser known and most highly rated of the Golden Age musicals. Even at the time, Brigadoon was praised (by the New York Drama Critics Circle) for its “altogether original and inventive blending of words, music and dance,” its “thoughtful beauty” that is “the lyric theatre at its best.”

But Brigadoon is not a musical comedy, its original director insists. “This was a play with music,” said Robert Lewis. “It was a play with beautiful music and an interesting story and interesting characters.”

“From forty years hindsight,” said scholar Miles Kreuger in 1992, “this is a show that very classically represents the transition in the development of the musical comedy into the era of the musical play.”

Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner

top photo: Miles Raymer as Tommy, Brandy Rose as Fiona

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