BRIGADOON, the timeless classic from Lerner & Loewe, opened on Broadway 70 years ago, on March 13, 1947. To celebrate, we’re reposting this wonderful piece about the show from actor and guest writer Jim Brochu. Enjoy!
The Timeless Tale of Brigadoon
There’s magic in the air! But that’s what a musical is all about, isn’t it? Magic! Imagine going to bed at night and when you wake up it’s a hundred years later. Impossible? Not when you are a resident of the enchanted town of Brigadoon, a heathery hamlet nestled in the Scottish Highlands.
BRIGADOON first appeared on the Broadway scene in 1947 when it opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre, and has returned to Broadway with four separate revivals. All hits. With its memorable love story, hilarious sidekicks, spectacular dancing, and one of the greatest scores ever written for the theatre, both the town and the musical have stood the test of time.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of joining Melissa Errico, Jason Danieley, the original Sweeney Todd Len Cariou, and two-time Tony Award-winner Christine Ebersole in a one night, all-star production of BRIGADOON at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. At our first read-through, we were all struck not only by the heart of the show, but also by its wonderful sense of humor. We were laughing and then teary-eyed and touched at the inherent humanity of the characters captured in the book. Sometimes “musical comedy” characters can be broadly-drawn caricatures but not in BRIGADOON. The entire cast from principals to townsfolk were caught up in the fact that we were not playing two-dimensional characters. Our director noted that the show could be devoid of songs and still stand as a solid non-musical play. When a musical is so well written, the actors know it and the audiences know it, too. Then it’s just a case of raising the curtain and letting the enchantment take over.
While there is a real Bridge of Doon in the northern part of Scotland, the ephemeral town is the pure creation of the legendary team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Lerner and Loewe created with one cohesive mind, but they couldn’t have been more opposite as individuals. Lerner came to Broadway by way of Choate preparatory school and Harvard; Loewe, on the other hand, was born in Austria and trained as a classical concert pianist until he found himself drawn to the American music of Gershwin, Berlin, and Porter. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Lerner and Loewe’s collaborations were famously unique and seamless. “First, we decide where a song is needed in a play,” said Lerner. “Second, what is the song going to be about? Third, we discuss the mood of the song and who should sing it to advance character and plot. Fourth, I give [Loewe] a title. Then he writes the music to the title and the general feeling of the song is established. After he’s written the melody, then I write the lyrics.”
The idea for BRIGADOON originally came from an old German folk tale that Loewe had heard as a child in Austria about a mythical town that came to life once every hundred years. Lerner knew at once that the potential for a great musical was there, and together they turned that potential into a stunning reality. The story follows Tommy and Jeff, two young Americans pals on their vacation trip to the Scottish Highlands. As they get lost in the mist, they come upon a town that doesn’t seem to appear on their map. Yes, it’s Brigadoon! They stumble into a kilt-swirling, joy-filled fair erupting in the town’s center – “Down On MacConnachy Square.” It’s love at first sight when Tommy sees local lass Fiona, but before he can be with her, he must contend with the secret of this strange and enchanted village: each night when the residents go to sleep, they all awake one hundred years later! Tommy can only join this elusive community if his love for Fiona is deep and true.Add to this already brilliant framework the inspired score in which every major character is assigned a memorable melody. Rarely do character-driven songs contain those elusive elements to turn them into stand-alone hits. The score of BRIGADOON has added a half dozen standards to the Great American Songbook, and their enduring power has been recorded in seven cast albums since its debut. From Tommy’s soaring “It’s Almost Like Being In Love,” Fiona’s plaintive “Waiting For My Dearie,” their romantic duet “The Heather On The Hill,” and Meg’s hilarious “My Mother’s Wedding Day,” the songs not only propel the action forward but they stand alone as individual musical jewels.
It takes a village, both on and off the stage, to take a well-constructed show and turn it into rousingly successful entertainment, and in that instance there is no finer village to bring to life than BRIGADOON. Its appeal transcends time, age, and social class – thanks to the solid book, standard songs, and the universal message offered: if you love someone deeply enough, anything is possible.
JIM BROCHU is the only actor in America to win the New York Drama Desk Award, Washington DC’s Helen Hayes Award, Los Angeles Ovation Award and the Florida Carbonell Award for Best Actor in a Play. Recently, he starred in Broadway Backwards at New York’s famed Palace Theatre and the Off-Broadway revivals of The Man Who Came To Dinner and The Roar of the Greasepaint; The Smell of the Crowd. Jim is also the recipient of the most prestigious of Broadway honors: his caricature hangs on the wall of the legendary Sardi’s restaurant in New York. Jimbrochu.com