Drip. Drip. Drip.
Here comes the wet blanket with its nap scruffed the wrong way. Frowning wet blanket – uh-oh.
The good news is that Robert Fairchild’s theatrical and dance portrayal of Harry Beaton in last night’s gala concert presentation of Lerner & Loewe’s Brigadoon at New York City Center was startlingly brilliant. Here we saw a character with a dangerous razor sharp edge who made us nervous to watch. There was no element of starry Gershwin or youthful Apollo, no expressed joy of dance, no charisma. This was all heavy, darkly dramatic character development where dance steps and a serious Scottish accent conveyed the angst of the troubled Beaton who we sensed from the very beginning was tumbling out of control toward his fate. We all should be bursting with pride that Fairchild's extraordinary talent rose through and was nurtured by the ballet world to land on New York's musical theater stage.
Kelli O’Hara as Fiona sang like an angel and looked like Sally Ann Howes who played the role at New York City Center a couple of times and in a TV production opposite Robert Goulet in the 1960s. Every word from her mouth whether as song or script was perfect joy to the ear. Patrick Wilson as Tommy Albright maybe came up short of Robert Goulet in looks and pipes, but he gave an overall sincere performance, if a little dry. Assif Mandvi turned the role of Jeff Douglas into a modern day, slightly bawdy, frequently-stoop-for-the-laugh character which seemed to work for audience members who weren’t familiar with the earlier versions of Brigadoon. Stephanie J. Block took over the stage at her every entrance in a masterful portrayal of Meg Brockie and offered one of the highlights of the evening when she sang The Love of My Life.
Christopher Wheeldon’s new production has fallen victim to his overused recipe of substituting video for scenery art and for scaling back production values to the point where the stage looks high school-ish even for a concert production. If Wheeldon, as he says, took all of the sugar out of Christmas for his new Joffrey Nutcracker which premiered last year, here he has taken all of Scotland out of Brigadoon. The costumes were Amish drab, maybe even too drab for the Amish. But the most offensive letdown of the evening was what he did with Agnes de Mille’s choreography.
The Playbill noted “Original dances created by Agnes de Mille” but identifies Wheeldon as having “Directed and Choreographed” this production. How intentionally misleading could that possibly be? He should have identified when and where his own original choreography appeared and, most importantly, where he simply altered de Mille’s work. That would have avoided audience members misappropriating de Mille’s genius to Wheeldon. Sadly, on opening night, Haglund heard, “That Wheeldon is a genius. The sword dance by Harry Beaton was awesome and the way Wheeldon had the women on their stomachs cheering Beaton on was brilliant.” Yeah, really.
When de Mille created the dances for Brigadoon, she seriously sought to insert authentic Scottish movement into the choreography. She was intimately familiar with the tricks of the ballet trade and how an audience roars for them. But she saw the value of authenticity and the use of restraint in design and implementation. It all helped convey the sincerity of the story.
In the current production, we have high kicks, six o’clock penches, and there must have been a fire sale on coupe jetes because they were everywhere. Very little in the way of Scottish dancing was incorporated into the choreography. Annoying was the frequent walking entry and exit of dancers from and to the wings for no apparent reason. Was it supposed to make the stage look like a vibrant community? Sorry, it conveyed disorganization.
We wish Wheeldon had saved his choreography for some original ballet or original stage production. It wasn’t bad, but it was completely out of place in Brigadoon. Completely. Out. Of. Place. Particularly inferior to de Mille’s work was Wheeldon’s Funeral Dance which was performed with loving care by Patricia Delgado. It was D.O.A. despite the flashing of the dancer’s pretty legs and feet.
If this Brigadoon somehow ever makes it to Broadway, it will fail fast despite the brilliant performances of Robert Fairchild, Kelli O’Hara, and Stephanie J. Block. Drab and inferior to de Mille’s productions, it really makes us worry about what we are about to see happen to her Carousel in February when Justin Peck tries once again to improve on her work. Boys, just leave the dead woman alone, will ya?