Brigadoon (The Production Co) – theatre review

A brilliantly re-imagined musical is on offer in The Production Company’s Brigadoon.

Lerner and Loewe’s original opened on Broadway in 1947 and in the West End in 1949, before making its Australian debut in 1951. However, many will recall the 1954 film version, which starred Gene Kelly, Van Johnson and Cyd Charisse. It was nominated for three Oscars and won the Golden Globe for Best Cinematography.

In this production, two American hikers – Tommy Albright (Rohan Browne) and Jeff Douglas (Luke Joslin) – stumble on Brigadoon, a village in the Scottish Highlands not on the map.In this version, the travellers have backpacks and mobile phones.

Albright is engaged to be married to a woman he clearly doesn’t love. In fact, he has already delayed their nuptials once. He wants more out of life than the comfortable but meaningless existence he has. Douglas, the more laidback of the pair, is different. Chilled, all he appears to need for company is a bottle.

Both they and the locals are startled though when the pair suddenly appear in this mysterious village, where traditional Scottish tartan is commonly worn. In quick time Tommy is enchanted by the delightfully honest and beautiful Fiona MacLaren (Genevieve Kingsford). Meanwhile flirtatious dairymaid Meg Brockie (Elise McCann) has designs on a hapless Jeff.

Tommy and Jeff arrive just as Fiona’s younger sister Jean (Stefanie Jones) is preparing to wed the handsome and cheeky Charlie Dalrymple (Matthew Manahan). But Harry Beaton (Joel Granger), who is madly in love with Jean, is inconsolable at the thought of her marrying another. Tommy’s life has already changed forever when he comes to understand the truth about Brigadoon. That truth is written in a family bible – and later explained by the wisest person in the village, Mrs Forsythe (Nancye Hayes). So the question becomes, what will Tommy do with that knowledge?

Other prominent players in a rich cast of 29 include Stephen Hall as Archie Beaton (Harry’s father) and Sally Bourne as Alice MacLaren (Fiona and Jean’s mother).

Director Jason Langley’s recreated Brigadoon is a sheer delight. They’ve shaken up the script to great effect, bringing it into the present day and introducing a darker sense of realism.

None of the performances is more jaw-dropping than that from The Production Company newcomer Genevieve Kingsford (her golden tonsils put a shiver up my spine). Rohan Browne’s lilt and lightness of touch confirm his status as a leading man. But the real crowd pleaser is Luke Joslin, appearing effortlessly hilarious in delivering some of the best lines in the show.

Elise McCann has a wow of a time in wrapping Douglas’ character around her little finger. I was also particularly taken by Matthew Manahan’s spectacular vocals. Christina Smith has done a wonderful job in designing a compact and highly effective set, to which I alluded at the outset, while Cameron Mitchell’s choreography is another feature. The staging of the cliffhanger exit at the end of Act I is amongst the many high points of the piece.

Brigadoon’s message about an empty life, loneliness and a return to community values resonates as strongly today as ever. Playing at the State Theatre at Arts Centre Melbourne until 5 November 2017, it is another great triumph for The Production Company and all associated with it.

Alex First

Other reviews you might enjoy: