Arts & Culture

REVIEW: 'Brigadoon' brings light and lively flair to Brucemore stage

James Caldwell

Principal dancer Corbin Phillips performs a sword dance during the wedding scene in #x201c;Brigadoon.#x2
James Caldwell Principal dancer Corbin Phillips performs a sword dance during the wedding scene in “Brigadoon.” The Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s Young Artist production is onstage through Sunday (6/17) in the outdoor Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater at Brucemore in southeast Cedar Rapids.

CEDAR RAPIDS — “Brigadoon” has never sounded so glorious.

With a cast full of college opera students, graduate students and recent graduates now embarking on their professional careers, the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s Young Artists sing their way on magical wings through this 1947 Lerner and Loewe musical theater classic.

The show opened Thursday and continues through Sunday night in the outdoor Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater on the Brucemore estate.

Bagpiper Brian McKenzie, who grew up in Scotland and now lives in Manchester, beckoned 273 people to the inviting space on opening night. Among them were 50 young people and adults from Mason City High School’s production, which opens next weekend.

Gates opened at 6:30 so audience members could gather for preshow picnics on the cool, damp evening. At intermission, many were reaching for blankets and jacket. With a heat wave upon us, it’s pretty safe to say the remaining audiences won’t need wraps.

But even on a scorcher — and I’ve sat through many — the peaceful parklike setting still drips with allure. Especially when you can catch a glimpse of deer leaping or sauntering on the sidelines. An opening night fawn was especially endearing as it paused to listen to the music, before scampering to catch up with its mama.

Equally endearing were the singers, dancers and actors onstage and scampering through the periphery, making wonderful use of the soaring pine trees and the splendor of their surroundings. You don’t need to see the village arising from the mist when you can feel it emerge through the far-off sounds from the trees behind the stage and behind the audience.

Those voices set the stage for the mystical tale that unfolds as two New Yorkers — Tommy Albright (Matt Chastain) and Jeff Douglas (Benjamin Kawsky) — get hopelessly lost in the Scottish Highlands.


Their map is no help, and just when they’re thoroughly mystified, lads in kilts and lasses in traditional dress appear. They welcome the strangers to a fair on McConnachy Square, where they can buy the sweetest candy “that every shook loose a tooth,” as well as ale, woolens and “the finest milk an’ cream that ever came out a cow.”

While the rest of the village is preparing for a wedding that day, the bride’s older sister, Fiona MacLaren (Stephanie Kim Johnson), catches Tommy’s gaze — and captures his fancy. The only catch is that he’s unhappily engaged to Jane Ashton (Christina Bernardoni) back home.

And Fiona has just declared to the other lasses that she’s in no hurry to find a man, being perfectly content to wait for the right one. “When he comes, my dearie, one look an’ I’ll know that he’s the dearie I’ve been wantin’ so.” It’s a sweet and prophetic song, since moments later, she’s experiencing love at first sight. But above all that, it’s love at first sight and sound for the audience experiencing Johnson’s fluid expression as a singer and actor.

All of the vocals are wonderful, from the fun “Jeannie’s Packing Up” trousseau preparation featuring all the young lasses, to the groom’s romantic lament, “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” as he longs for a glimpse of his bride on their wedding day. Ashley Armstrong lights up the stage whenever her feisty Meg takes center stage, especially as she tries to win over Tommy’s tippling friend Jeff, who is in no hurry to be wedded or bedded by her.

The outstanding moments, however, belong to Fiona and Tommy. Their chemistry is palpable as they sing their way through falling in love.

A special nod must go to Corbin Phillips, a University of Iowa dance student who has springs in his feet as he leaps over crossed swords during the wedding festivities. When he’s finished, those swords trigger the drama of the piece, as the man pining for the bride can no longer live with his despair, and threatens to leave Brigadoon, thus breaking the town’s spell and sending it permanently into the mist.

What won’t fade into the mist are the memories of a lovely night in a magical setting.

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