It took about a decade for director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell to make her Goodman Theatre directorial debut. I don't expect she'll have to wait long for another invitation, not if her gorgeously sung and exquisitely danced revival of "Brigadoon" is any indication.
Liza Lerner, daughter of writer/lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, hand-picked the Joseph Jefferson Award winner to helm this 1947 musical -- admired more for composer Frederick Loewe's lush, romantic score than Lerner's book -- about an 18th century Scottish burg that appears in the Highlands for one day every hundred years.
"Brigadoon"★ ★ ★ ½
Location: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, (312) 443-3800, goodmantheatre.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Aug. 17. Also 7:30 p.m. July 22 and 19. No 7:30 p.m. show July 27. No 2 p.m. show July 12 and 31.
Running time: About two hours, 30 minutes with intermission
Parking: $21 parking (with Goodman validation) at the Government Center Self Park at Clark and Lake streets
Rating: For most audiences
Featuring a revised book by Brian Hill, a canny reordering of several songs and new arrangements courtesy of music director Roberta Duchak, Rockwell's production is reverent, genuine and vividly told.
There is never a dull moment in this production, which Rockwell insisted in a recent Daily Herald interview would not feature a typical "Brigadoon" staging.
That vision is reflected in Kevin Depinet's verdant set, which has an otherworldly quality amplified by Shawn Sagady's evocative projections and Aaron Spivey's lighting.
Set pieces are minimal. A pair of pitched beams suggests a house and a partial rose window represents a church. Mara Blumenfeld's costumes merit a well-deserved showcase during the wedding scene, when members of the various clans enter attired in an array of vibrant plaids.
Set in 1946, this musical folk tale opens with a pair of Americans -- World War II veteran and reluctant bridegroom Tommy Albright (the superb Kevin Earley) and his pragmatic best man Jeff Douglas (a deliciously wry Rod Thomas) -- lost in the Scottish Highlands, days before Tommy is to wed a wealthy New York socialite.
The men encounter a mist-shrouded village, not found on their map, where the anachronistically attired residents are preparing for the marriage of Jean MacLaren (the bonny young dancer Olivia Renteria) and Charlie (a wide-eyed, disarming Jordan Brown). They accept an invitation to join the celebration. And while Jeff dodges the romantic advances from Maggie Portman's saucy, high-spirited Meg, Tommy spends time with Jean's sister Fiona (the lovely, clarion-voiced Jennie Sophia), who observes correctly that Tommy has lost more than his way.
Indeed, this tale is rooted in loss. Tommy, seemingly suffering from post-traumatic stress, has lost faith. For unexplained reasons, he has also fallen out of love with his fiancee, and is therefore amenable to Fiona's charms and those of this mythical burg.
Fiona and Jean lost their mother, whose absence on her daughter's wedding day is beautifully expressed by Renteria in a poignant, balletic dance. Then, there's Harry (Rhett Gutter), who is distraught over Jean's marriage and losing the love of his life.
The entire town, it turns out, experienced what it meant to be on the losing side of the 1746 Jacobite rebellion that claimed the lives of Brigadoon's young men, shattered the psyches of the survivors and threatened the survival of their Highland culture. In response, a village elder arranged for the "miracle" of Brigadoon, which disappears and re-emerges for one day every 100 years, thus insulating its residents from the horrors of war and the heartache of everyday life.
But for all that underlying sorrow, "Brigadoon" is buoyed by faith: faith in enduring love, in community, in God. And at the same time, it offers a fantastical love story about soul mates separated by time.
Among "Brigadoon's" delights is Rockwell's expressive, seamlessly integrated choreography which combines traditional Scottish dancing and classical ballet to wonderful effect. The most engaging choreographic moments involved narrative dance: Renteria's bittersweet solo contemplating her mother's bridal veil and Gutter's anguished sword dance. But the most memorable dance performance came courtesy of the wonderful Katie Spelman, whose eloquent portrayal of a woman grieving a lost love had a kind of furious beauty impossible to forget.
Kudos all around. That goes for this fine ensemble of singing/actors accompanied by a first-rate, 13-member orchestra conducted by Valerie Maze.
The well-matched Earley and Sophia sound especially grand on "Almost Like Being in Love." Sophia's singing on "Waitin' For My Dearie" is pristine.
And if Lerner's lyrics for "There But For You Go I" -- repositioned in the penultimate spot, which makes more narrative sense -- don't convince you of the transformative power of love, Earley's soaring, heartfelt vocals will.