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Brigadoon -08/13/1999

Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Cast includes: Susan Little Abbott, Aaron Clark, Devon Gravely, Dustin Hamilton, Cindy Havice, Jimmy Howe, Heather Johnson, Ramsey Margison, Kelly F. Maxwell, Norm Sanders, John Stuff, Trisha Whitkanack. Director: Suzanne Aldridge. Music and Orchestra Director: Robert L. Smith. Choreographer: Jennifer Reiter. Scenic Designer: Dusty Cory. Costume Design: Jeri Corso. Sound Designer: Douglas Pugh. Lighting Designer: Brent O'Neill.

Clark, Devon Gravely, Dustin Hamilton, Cindy Havice, Jimmy Howe, Heather Johnson, Ramsey Margison, Kelly F. Maxwell, Norm Sanders, John Stu

CUTC at the Virginia, through August 15. Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park, Champaign. Box Office: 355-3636.


"Brigadoon," the first Broadway hit for the team of Lerner and Loewe, has all the earmarks of the Golden Age of American musicals.

It's got a couple of stand-alone hit songs ("Almost Like Being in Love" and "Heather on the Hill"), a sweetly romantic plotline, eccentric secondary characters for a little comic relief, and balletic dances originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille (a la "Oklahoma" and "Carousel.")

The odd thing about "Brigadoon" is the fantasy element -- you won't find many musicals about mysterious towns that appear out of a Scottish mist for one day every hundred years and then disappear again.

But it's that same fantastic element that has kept "Brigadoon" alive since its post-WWII debut, as audiences enjoy the idea that true love can conquer time and space and cynicism, that one small town can magically hold out against the onslaught of modern life.

The CUTC production of "Brigadoon" at Champaign's historic Virgina Theater looks great.

Scenic designer Dusty Cory contributes strongly to the effort, with romantic, picturesque backdrops and a few simple set pieces. A flower bedecked stone wall, a small wishing well... The touches are just right. They're flexible enough to properly frame the action, and also easy to move up and down and on and off, for quick, efficient set changes.

Costume designer Jeri Corso adds a stunning array of plaids, helping this "Brigadoon" maintain its good looks.

Director Suzanne Aldridge moves her large cast around the stage very well, for effective stage pictures and a brisk pace. Her emphasis seems to be on energy and a bright mood, and both are achieved nicely.

The dance scenes, choreographed by Jennier Reiter, are real highlights. With such a big group, the fact that the dances look effortless, spontaneous and yet under control is nothing short of amazing.

The men take center stage to good effect on a colorful, sprightly performance of "I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean," while a pretty chorus of young ladies, fronted by Heather Johnson's lithe and very bonny Jean, create a lovely "Come To Me, Bend To Me."

The voices across the cast are strong, with Ramsey Margison and Trisha Whitkanack at the top of the class as Tommy and Fiona, the main (and mismatched) lovers in the piece.

Dustin Hamilton's Charlie Dalrymple, village lad in love, is another crowd-pleaser -- Hamilton's big, bright voice and Backstreet Boys look create a unique, if not terribly Scottish, Charlie.

But acting honors go to Norm Sanders, picture perfect as Mr. Lundie, the charming old gent who explains how and why Brigadoon came to vanish into the mist. Sanders' bio indicates this is his third go-round with Mr. Lundie, and his expertise shows.

Robert L. Smith conducts a sparkling orchestra with excellent style and musicality, although his musical direction of the performers seems to lag a bit here and there. With this quality of voices to work with, there's no reason for missed melodies or flat notes.

The only other sour note is the lights -- slow cues and too much emphasis on follow spots pull us out of the magical world of "Brigadoon" and back to the Virginia Theater. A more subtle lighting design would probably work better with this material.

Still, this "Brigadoon" is a good example of what community theater can be -- bright, fun, lyrical, and appealing.

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