Musical `Brigadoon' enchants anew

Brigadoon Musical fantasy by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music). Paul Gemignani, conductor. Gerald Freedman, director. Agnes de Mille's original choreography re-created by James Jamieson.

The New York City Opera has launched its projected annual seasons of American musical comedy with an opulent and enchanting production of ``Brigadoon.'' The 1947 Alan J. Lerner-Frederick Loewe fantasy has lost none of its capacity to cast a spell over the spectator. With Paul Gemignani conducting and Gerald Freedman as director, the revival at the New York State Theater proves faithful to the lyric qualities and romantic spirit that have been beguiling audiences since Brigadoon first appeared on the Broadway map nearly 40 years ago.

The spell begins as unseen villagers softly sing the title song while Brigadoon emerges through the mists and scrims of Desmond Heeley's beautiful evergreen setting. With many a lovely melody and enhanced by Agnes de Mille's superb highland dances, ``Brigadoon'' tells how jaded Tommy Albright (Richard White at the premi`ere) and his cynical friend Jeff Douglas (Tony Roberts) lose their way in a misty Scottish forest. Stumbling upon a hamlet they cannot find on their map, the straying New Yorkers are transported back a couple of centuries to the village that has just awakened from its latest hundred-year sleep. With Jeff to supply sidekick humor, ``Brigadoon'' unfolds the love story of Tommy and Fiona MacLaren (Sheryl Woods), one of the fairest of the Brigadoon fair.

Its rich score alone would explain the lasting popularity of ``Brigadoon.'' Lerner and Loewe could write melting songs like ``Come to Me, Bend to Me,'' ``The Heather on the Hill,'' and ``Almost Like Being in Love,'' or touch a lighter romantic chord with ``Waitin' for My Dearie'' and ``I'll Go Home to Bonnie Jean.'' They provided jolly airs like ``Down on MacConnachy Square'' for the townsfolk and musical comic relief with numbers like ``The Love of My Life'' for buxomly amorous Meg Brockie (Joyce Castle).

To achieve its total effect, however, the show depends on Miss de Mille's choreography (here re-created by James Jamieson). ``Brigadoon'' celebrates movement, whether in the charming female ensembles, in such striking specialties as the sword dance (featuring electric Luis Perez) and the funeral dance by Tinka Gutrick, or in the tense excitements of the second-act chase.

Besides those already mentioned, the cast of the excellently sung revival includes Cris Groenendaal as bonnie Jean's stalwart Charlie Dalrymple and Camille Ross as bonnie Jean. As wise old Mr. Lundie, James Billings makes the tale of Brigadoon as believable as it is magical. Contributing visually to the magic are Duane Schulery's atmospheric lighting and the aforementioned Mr. Heeley's handsome costumes.

According to Burns Mantle (in ``Best Plays of 1946-1947''), ``Brigadoon'' was only the third musical to be included in the annual compilation. (The earlier two were ``Of Thee I Sing'' and ``Oklahoma!'') ``Brigadoon,'' which won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical of the season, was selected by ``Beat Plays'' to represent ``the emergence of the American musical play of quality, and the novelty of the fantasies that have come with it.'' The quality has survived, and the New York City Opera does admirably by that quality. As the lady on my left observed, ``I loved every minute of it.'' The production, which is made possible by a continuing gift from Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Wien, is scheduled to run through March 30. Little Footsteps Comedy by Ted Tally. Directed by Gary Pearle.

``Little Footsteps,'' at Playwrights Horizons, combines elements of TV sitcom, educated trendiness, and old-fashioned farce.

Beginning with a cartoon prologue, Ted Tally conducts a dizzy exploration into the shattering effects of approaching parenthood on Ben and Joanie (Mark Blum and Anne Lange). Jewish Ben produces video sports promos. WASP Joanie is a volunteer guide at the Metropolitan Museum.

Humorous bickering turns contentious as the couple redecorate the dining room that is to become their baby's nursery. While Joanie paints stars, butterflies, and a rainbow (``a bridge to somewhere I've never known''), Ben grows increasingly irate and panicky. When he begins defacing his wife's playfully lyric design, Joanie walks out. Act 2 becomes ever more frantic and farcical as Ben turns up surreptitiously for his son's christening.

Director Gary Pearle achieves the necessary degree of well-ordered chaos in guiding ``Little Footsteps'' through its zigzag course. Mr. Blum applies all of his expertise as a farceur and his considerable charm to making Ben plausible and even appealing. The attractive Miss Lange is harder pressed to win much sympathy for the exasperating Joanie. As her parents, veterans Jo Henderson and Thomas Toner behave like the clich'ed suburbanites Mr. Tally has written them to be. Set designer Thomas Lynch amusingly transforms the nursery d'ecor from artsy to conventional. Nancy Schertler lighted the production. Ann Hould-Ward created the costumes. At present, ``Little Footsteps'' is scheduled to run through March 16.

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