Filichia Features: The Sentimental and Sassy Brigadoon

Filichia Features: The Sentimental and Sassy Brigadoon

By Peter Filichia on November 22, 2017

So you think Brigadoon is sentimental, huh?

Well, yes, some of it is. A man’s willingness to give up his job and everything else for a woman is something that would appeal to much of the theatergoing public.

Nevertheless, as we saw in last week’s wondrous revival at City Center, there’s more hot sauce than syrup in Alan Jay Lerner’s script and lyrics.

Granted, it’s a period piece that feels fine in the late ‘40s. Your audience will immediately glean that it takes place in the long-ago in the first moments of the opening scene:

Tommy and Jeff are looking for directions on a paper map -- and not an iPhone.

The gentle musical strains of the title song sung by the Brigadoonians do suggest that a tender and mellow musical will follow. But even before Tommy and Jeff wander into town we hear a robust opening number – one of musical theater’s best courtesy of Frederick Loewe’s music – in “Down on MacConnachy Square.”

Townspeople are going through their daily routines of buying, selling, and becoming increasingly more excited to attend the wedding of Jean MacLaren and Charlie Dalrymple – except for Harry Beaton. His intense love for Jean has gone utterly unrequited.

Director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon made the most of the moment when Jean went to say hello to him. After she said “Hello, Harry,” he, shopping for eggs, dropped one of them. Its breaking was a strong symbol that his heart was breaking, too.

Although the show takes place in Scotland, it requires an Irish tenor for Charlie’s “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean.” If you don’t know the song, you might infer from the title that it’s a sticky-sweet ballad from a dewy-eyed man who’s dumbstruck with love. No – Ross Lekites stirringly showed that a guy who’s sown many a wild oat was now vowing to give up his swinging single life.

Into the town came Patrick Wilson and Aasif Mandvi as Tommy and Jeff. Lerner wrote that Jeff would ask the Brigadoonians “Could you tell us where we are?” but Wheeldon improved the moment by having Mandvi ask “Could. You. Tell. Us. Where. We. ARE?” in that overly loud and halting way that Ugly Americans foolishly use when greeting people whom they believe can’t speak English. Why do they think that if they say the words at heightened volume and slower speed that they’ll be understood?

Lerner could have made Jean’s still-single sister Fiona jealous that her younger sister was beating her to the altar. Instead, he created a rare heroine who was in no hurry to get married; she was “Waiting for My Dearie.”

After Tommy arrived, the wait was over. However, that didn’t mean an operetta-like, hearts-and-flowers romance would be on stage all night long. Kelli O’Hara showed us that Tommy’s modern American ways grated on her. The audience laughed heartily after she said “I like ye very much; I just dinna like anything you say.” That’s more sassy than sentimental, wouldn’t you admit?

Although Tommy and Fiona start a song and end it with the same sentiment -- “It’s almost like being in love” – Patrick Wilson and O’Hara made certain to honor The Musical Theater Playbook by adhering to one of its most important tenets: Move the Action Forward. Lerner’s lyric doesn’t do that, so he and she showed the accelerating shift into love by their attitudes. They and Wheeldon get credit for doing it without any mawkishness.

And while death in a musical was not unheard of in 1947, plenty of musicals avoided it. Brigadoon didn’t, as Harry’s long-held death wish eventually came true.

Brigadoon is an unusually heavy dance show, so you must have a classically trained choreographer. Wheeldon’s work certainly had energy. (Well, these Brigadoonians should have it; they’ve enjoyed 100 straight years of rest, for the town only comes to life once a century.)

Seeing Robert Fairchild do so splendidly by Harry in the ballets was definitely one of the production’s highlights. Especially winning was the Sword Dance that occurred at the wedding. Seeing swords crossed with scabbards and lying peacefully on the ground – and watching the men dance around them -- was much nicer than seeing the guys take those swords out of their scabbards and fight.

(Okay, maybe that’s a more sentimental choice …)

Finding a Fairchild in your midst will be a challenge, but at least casting Jeff will be easier. Although it’s not a small part, the character is never required to sing. In the “There-are-no-small-parts-just-small-actors” category, Rich Hebert made Andrew MacLaren show both the joy of seeing his daughter married and the sadness of losing Daddy’s Little Girl.

Romantic triangles have been the stuff of many stories; Brigadoon’s is thornier because Tommy is actually engaged to Jane but has been slow to set a date. Now there’s a story that’ll always be contemporary: a man who can’t make a commitment.

Wheeldon realized that we had to see why she and Tommy have got as far as they have, so he made her the least strident Jane I’ve seen in my seven trips to Brigadoon on stage, the film and the 1966 TV special. But she still wasn’t sentimental.

All right, Tommy and Fiona do get together in a way that implies that Love Conquers All, which is indeed sentimental. And in that respect, Brigadoon doesn’t fit the two descriptions that were applied to certain Broadway musicals of the ‘40s: “The Tired Businessman’s Show” and “The Legs Show.”

Oh, wait! I’m wrong -- at least about the second description. Brigadoon indeed is a “Legs Show,” for aside from Tommy and Jeff, both women and men’s legs can be seen quite often thanks to dresses and kilts.

Yes, Brigadoon offers something for everyone -- even the most cynical non-sentimentalists.

Read more Filichia Features.

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be