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posted: 7/3/2014 5:30 AM

Rockwell hand-picked for Goodman's revival of 'Brigadoon'

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  • Award-winning director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell makes her Goodman Theatre directing debut with "Brigadoon." The major revival earned the blessing of Liza Lerner, daughter of lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner, who wrote the 1947 musical with composer Frederick Loewe.

      Award-winning director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell makes her Goodman Theatre directing debut with "Brigadoon." The major revival earned the blessing of Liza Lerner, daughter of lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner, who wrote the 1947 musical with composer Frederick Loewe.
    courtesy of Liz Lauren

  • Liza Lerner, daughter of Alan Jay Lerner, observes a rehearsal of Goodman Theatre's revival of "Brigadoon."

      Liza Lerner, daughter of Alan Jay Lerner, observes a rehearsal of Goodman Theatre's revival of "Brigadoon."
    courtesy of Liz Lauren

  • Director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell, center, rehearses a number from Goodman Theatre's revival of "Brigadoon" with leads Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) and Jennie Sophia (Fiona).

      Director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell, center, rehearses a number from Goodman Theatre's revival of "Brigadoon" with leads Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) and Jennie Sophia (Fiona).
    courtesy of Liz Lauren

  • Video: Rockwell on "Brigadoon"

 
 

So, do you want to direct and choreograph "Brigadoon"?

Rachel Rockwell didn't ponder that question long before accepting the offer from Liza Lerner, daughter of legendary lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner, to helm a revival of the 1947 musical by her father and composer Frederick Loewe.

Lerner had been searching for a director to take on the project when a partner with the talent agency that represents Rockwell recommended the Joseph Jefferson Award winner, who earned accolades for revivals of "Ragtime," "The Sound of Music" and "Sweeney Todd" at Drury Lane Oak Brook and "The Music Man," "Annie" and "Hair" at Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

Meeting at a Chicago wine bar last summer, the women clicked, Rockwell said. "Our ideas aligned."

With her director on board, Lerner proposed a "Brigadoon" revival to Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls -- setting the stage for what Lerner and Goodman representatives claim is the first major revival for "Brigadoon" in 34 years. The show officially opens this weekend.

"There are very few people in town who are both as experienced as Rachel, and who have the love of the craft of making musicals as Rachel," said Falls, who had previously approached her about directing at Goodman. "She always goes to the heart at the center of these classic musicals."

"Brigadoon" is about a pair of American tourists in 1946 who discover an 18th-century Scottish burg that reappears once every century for only one day. One of the men falls in love with one of Brigadoon's female residents, forcing him to make some difficult choices.

Staging this rarely produced show is a tremendous responsibility, but Falls has confidence in his director, whom he describes as a leader with a "great sense of humor and an ability to inspire the artists."

"She's delightful, a very focused person," he said. "She's used to marshaling these very difficult works in a short time."

Having Liza Lerner's stamp of approval ups the ante.

"You want to do it (the show) justice," Rockwell said.

"You want people to see the beautiful things about it you see," she said of the musical.

"It's very Chekhovian," Rockwell added. "There is a lot of laughter through tears in this play (which asks) what would it mean to only have one day to love and live? And how do you choose to spend your love and spend your time?"

Rockwell's creative team includes frequent collaborators music director Roberta Duchak and set designer Kevin Depinet, along with writer Brian Hill, who was tasked with "freshening up" Lerner's book.

Rockwell credits her incredible collaborators with keeping her on the right path.

"I trust their opinions completely," she said. "If you're smart, you surround yourself with the best people."

And Rockwell is pretty smart.

A native of Evansville, Indiana, she was born to the theater.

Her mother, Glory Kissel, is an actress who has appeared in several Rockwell productions. Her father is songwriter-turned-novelist Austin Gary, and her brother, drummer Jeremy Spencer, co-founded the metal band, Five Finger Death Punch.

Rockwell started taking dance lessons at age 7 and began choreographing in high school. After graduating from the University of Evansville with a degree in theater, the triple threat -- she sings, dances and acts -- started working and never looked back.

"I was very fortunate," Rockwell said.

She begins every project doing research. In the case of "Brigadoon," she studied Scottish history and the residents of the Highlands, whose rebellion against the government in London was brutally quashed, costing many Highlanders their lives, their lands and their culture.

Then she immersed herself in the show.

"There isn't a rest or a note of music in this play that I don't know," Rockwell laughed.

Working at Goodman means access to its considerable resources, but Rockwell intends to keep the spectacle in check, putting onstage only that which supports the story.

"The play can't be overwhelmed by a bunch of stuff," she said. "It's very delicate."

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