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Gambit Weekly Magic of the Highlands

By Dalt Wonk

JULY 28, 1997:  For most theatergoers, the mental image of Scotland pretty much follows the cliches: rustic crags, men in kilts, plaids and, of course, the lilt of bagpipes echoing off yon hills.

Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon, the second offering of Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre's 30th season, did not disappoint. As patrons approached Dixon Hall, a piper paced in front of the building, summoning all to an evening filled with enchantment.

Director Michael Howard, who will succeed retiring artistic director Dr. Francis Monachino next season, wrought a colorful, lively production that exuded the wonder and magic of the show in every scene. The story is completely original, reflecting librettist and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner's fascination with the Scots' culture.

The story is remarkably uncomplicated: two American buddies hunting in the Scottish highlands lose their way and stumble upon a mysterious village. For Tommy Albright, disenchanted with his hectic New York lifestyle, it is a wonderful place. His pal, Jeff Douglas, is more cynical. He cannot deny the charms of the village -- particularly those of the lusty Meg Brockie -- but he looks forward to his return to the rat race. The wistful local Fiona sees husband material in Tommy, for whom the feeling is mutual, and he elects to remain in Brigadoon. In between, there's lots of dancing, humor, a wedding, a chase and about 14 of Lerner and Loewe's most beloved songs.

Veteran choreographer Alton Geno had a field day, managing to shepherd the citizenry of Brigadoon and their two out-of-town guests through the paces of several remarkably well-choreographed dance numbers. Costumer Elizabeth Parent likewise plunged in, producing a colorful wardrobe aswirl in plaids, including at least four distinct tartans representing each clan in Brigadoon. An appealing set by Rick Paul, effectively lighted by Michael Batt, completed the effect begun by the piper out front.

Brigadoon was admirably cast, a none-too-easy task considering the substantially large number of major roles. As Fiona, Melissa Marshall was simply marvelous, reminding me strongly of Sally Ann Howes' stunning performance in a 1968 TV production of the play. This professionally trained singer will be seen this fall in the New Orleans Opera Association production of Lakme.

Opposite Marshall as her beau was C. Leonard Raybon in his first New Orleans leading role. While well-suited to the role with his rugged charm and tremendous voice, I regret that I found his acting and non-singing dialogue a touch wooden. But one can see tremendous potential in this accomplished vocalist, and I look forward to seeing him in future productions.

As Jeff, David W. Hoover makes his TSLT debut, injecting his character with well-paced humor. Michael Arnold is the disgruntled Harry Beaton, whose combined dismay at both being unable to leave Brigadoon and losing the hand of "Bonnie Jean" nearly spoils the enchantment that makes the village so, well, enchanting. Arnold exhibits his exceptional dancing ability in several scenes.

Cynthia Nash's Meg provided many a chuckle, especially in the bawdy "My Mother's Weddin' Day," while John Giraud was equally likable as Charlie. His rendition of "I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean" is heartfelt and introduces one of Alton Geno's lavish dance numbers. Explaining the magic of Brigadoon is the man who doubles as the community leader, schoolmaster Mr. Lundie, pleasantly played by Nikki Barranger.

Despite a cast of 17 main characters and a chorus of nearly two score more, director Howard successfully defeated my favorite pet peeve about local productions of shows set in foreign locations: the accent. Marshall lucked out; her roommate is a Scot, so she had private coaching. While the rest of the cast was not so fortunate, I heard very little in the way of dropped accents for the entire show.

Mention also must be made of the excellent orchestra conducted by Pamela Legendre. Brigadoon is, after all, more operetta than musical. Equally enjoyable were the performances of Marta Vincent and Steve Young, who alternated as the show's pipers. Their mastery of a complicated musical instrument added much to the setting.

I do lament how brief Summer Lyric's runs are; I'd love to see this one again. So I eagerly anticipate the final offering from TSLT for this season, Meredith Wilson's The Music Man. It opens July 31 and runs through Aug. 3. If TSLT's first two shows (we enjoyed Peter Pan in June) are any indication, theater fans are in for yet another musical treat by the city's leading professional summer musical troupe.

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