"The Heather on the Hill" - Brigadoon - Bucolic Bliss
Brigadoon. It is a musical that is considered one of the "greats" from the golden age of musical theatre. When I was growing up, it seemed like every high school and community theatre produced this show (with varying degree of success). Nowadays, it seems as though Brigadoon isn't done quite as often as it used to be. It would be interesting to speculate as to why. Perhaps audiences aren't as enchanted with this show as they used be? Maybe it was a musical for a simpler time? Maybe the stodgy, static film version turns people off to the piece? The story is essentially a romantic fairy tale and its straightforward, falling in love at first sight premise may be too simplistic for those of us living in more romantically complicated world. It's certainly not dated by its content or language. I'm not sure that I agree with those who feel the script needs to be "reworked" for Brigadoon to be revived on Broadway, but maybe I am wrong? So where is our revival of the show about two hunters that happen upon a Scottish town that appears every one-hundred years and who have their lives forever changed by interacting with the town's denizens?
What cannot be denied is that the Lerner and Loewe score for Brigadoon has not dated. The music is some of Loewe's most evocative and certainly his most sweeping and lovely. Lerner's lyrics are not his most distinct or character driven (My Fair Lady would reveal a sharper, more complex Lerner), but his wit and sentiment is at its brightest in Brigadoon. Just as the springy "Almost Like Being in Love" and the lilting "There But For You Go I" capture the urgent, emotional pulse of the piece, "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" and "My Mother's Wedding Day" are infused with folksy humor and a delicious sense of old-world charm.
The song that seems to gets lost in the mix is the pastorally poetic "The Heather on the Hill." When the hunter Tommy strolls and chats with the Scottish lass Fiona, their attraction to each other is hinted at as the song unfolds. The aspects of the countryside surrounding Brigadoon are subtly painted up with gentle brushstrokes of visual imagery, setting the stage for a magical love story. This is what I shall call "bucolic bliss." We feel like we know this place and it inspires warm memories of our childhoods growing up in the country (even if we didn't). We saw this field of heather on some calendar or in some picture book.
What "The Heather on the Hill" accomplishes is two-fold. Yes, it sets up a love story. More importantly, it allows us to see Brigadoon in ways that scenery and costumes cannot achieve. It engages our imagination and lets us fill in the blanks. The best theatre does this. It makes us a collaborator with the piece and, somewhere in front of the upstage shadows and in the sparkling glow of the footlights, WE construct that ideal world out of the ether. Brigadoon still has magic in her. Let's hope we do not have to wait a hundred years for it to appear again.
Please share with me your opinions on Brigadoon and comment below.