Light Opera Works’ “Brigadoon” will draw your heart to the Highlands

Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 10:33 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Jennie Sophia and Robert Hunt star in Light Opera Works’ “Brigadoon,” which runs through Sunday at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston.

Though less often staged these days than My Fair Lady or Camelot, there is a gentle charm and bittersweet quality about Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon, the duo’s first great Broadway success, that brings the 1947 musical closer to the world of European operetta than its successors.

There’s also striking musical sophistication in Frederick Loewe’s melding of Scottish thematic motifs within the texture of the music and a tightly woven nexus between song and dance that wouldn’t be seen again on Broadway until West Side Story a decade later. Not to mention the fact that Brigadoon includes such American songbook classics as Waitin’ for my Dearie, The Heather on the Hill, Come to Me, Bend to Me, and Almost Like Being in Love, all in the first act alone.

Light Opera Works is opening its 2011 season with Lerner and Loewe’s musical fable of the mysterious Scottish village that comes to life only once every hundred years and how the American tourist Tommy Albright loses his heart to a young Scottish lass, Fiona MacLaren.

There are small quibbles to be had about the Evanston company’s production, which opened Saturday night at Cahn Auditorium. But for the most part LOW’s Brigadoon provided the vocal heft, romantic charm and humor to bring this classic American musical to vibrant life.

The clear star of the show was Jennie Sophia as Fiona MacLaren. In her company debut, she brought a sweet soprano, adorable Scottish accent and touching sincerity to Fiona MacLaren, the Scottish girl who bewitches the lost American.

Also making his company debut was Robert Hunt who made a forthright and vocally imposing Tommy, selling the big vocal moments and blending well with Sophia in their duets.

Maggie Portman flirted with excess at times as the lubricious Meg Brockie but the petite soprano has a powerhouse voice and put across her two comic numbers (The Love of My Life and My Mother’s Wedding Day) with great energy and panache.

As Charlie Dalrymple, tenor Brandon Moorhead delivered I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean with ringing top notes and brought just the right tender intimacy to Come to Me, Bend to Me, one of Lerner and Loewe’s most beautiful inspirations. As his betrothed Jean, Emily A. Rogers made an aptly guileless ingenue and graceful dancer in the ballet sequences.

Clay Sanderson brought a wry sardonic tone to the proceedings as Tommy’s bibulous slacker friend, Jeff Douglas. Bobby Johnson showed himself an impressive dancer and acrobatic presence as the jealous outcast, Harry Beaton. Jerry M. Miller was an avuncular Mr. Lundie.

The opening-night performance was largely free of glitches apart from a couple electronic mishaps and a decidedly ragged opening chorus. Some of the supporting characters’ Scottish accents seemed to come and go, but more problematic was the inconsistent projection of words by a few of the principals with some of Alan Jay Lerner’s wittiest lyrics being swallowed up at the end of phrases.

Artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller handled the staging and choreography with his usual verve and finesse, bringing fine fluency to the transitions between vocal and dancing sections. There were a few ensemble lapses opening night, but Roger L. Bingaman conducted in the pit with vitality and a true idiomatic style and Ted Royal’s original Broadway orchestrations sounded terrific.

Light Opera Works present Brigadoon 2 p.m. Wednesday and June 12, and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.; 847-869-6300.

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