It is hard to single anything out in a production as multi-virtuous as the "Brigadoon" that opened at the National last night, but it is downright impossible not to single out Meg Bussert.
Bussert alone would make Lerner and Lowe's mythical, mist-shrouded town in the Scottish highlands a dandy place to visit. Everything she does as Fiona, the most eligible daughter of the village, is a seamless blend of technique and feeling. She starts with a beautiful, loud, lustrous singing voice -- unveiled by degrees in her first number, "Waitin' for My Dearie" -- and wastes no time proving her equal talents as an actress. And in a part that could easily get stuck in unremttent sweetness, Bussert is wickedly funny when it suits (as it does when she sings: "Waitin' for my dearie is sweeter to me/Than wooing any laddie on the lee").
Yet give her a shot at a "The Heather on the Hill," or "From This Day On," or the title song, and she is the embodiment of all the romance Alan Jay Lerner sought to plant into this odd fable of an 18th-century town sleeping through the 20th.
Bussert is, in short, a star. It is nice to be reminded that the firmament is still accepting applicants.
She had strong support on stage last night, and stronger support still from several old hands in the audience and elsewhere. First and foremost, there was -- is, always will be -- Agnes de Mille. If you want to see the wise, enthralling use of dance on the musical stage, have a look at the way De Mille builds simple parts into an elegant whole with "Bonnie Jean," how her dancers manage to be delicate and stately at once, and how couples emerge gracefully from the ensemble and then fold back into it.
The name Frederick Loewe also comes to mind. "Brigadoon" remains one of the irresistible scores of the American musical theater. Occasionally the songs may, on cold analysis, veer toward the overwrought, but listening to them tends to discourage cold analysis. Besides, wherever the music goes, Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics go too. The poignancy of "There But For You Go I, for example, is equally in the words and music. (Unfortunately, it is not in Martin Vidnovic's rushed delivery; this ballad and two others involving him are the victims of what seems to be a misguided effort to get in step with the '80s.)
The book presents Lerner's romanticism at its most unabashedly attractive. "It is the hardest thing in the world to give everything -- though usually it is the only way to get everything" says Mr. Lundie, the keeper of Brigadoon's official secret -- and hemight well be speaking for the author. Lundie's timeless, unleavable village, in other words, represents what we give up and what we get when we take a leap in the name of love.
And who but Lerner could ever dreamed up the idea of a town that awakens only one day every 100 years because, that way, "it wouldna' stay in any century long enough to be injured by it."
Director Vivian Matalon has handled that book with care. The accents are astonishingly consistent by musical comedy standards, and so is the caliber of acting in general. Besides Bussert and Vidnovic (who is straightforward and comfortable, if uninspired, as Tommy, the American interloper), Jack Dabdoub, Stephen Lehew and Elaine Hausman are standouts. And John Curry, as the dour Harry Beaton ("Brigadoon's" answer to Oklahoma's" Poor Jud), shows that he not only can dance without skates, but isn't afraid of dialogue either.
Unfortunately, the humans in this "Brigadoon" don't get nearly what they deserve in the way of clothing and housing. The colors are too many and too loud, and add up to a cartoon version of Merry Olde Scotland. And the peculiar islands of rock and moss that keep rolling about during the action and coming together in ever-more-peculiar configurations, are enough to make somewone curse the day Styrofoam was invented.
BRIGADOON with book and lyrics byAlan Jay Lerner; music by Frederick Loewe; directed by Vivian Matalon; choreographed by Agnes de Mille; scenery by Michael J. Hotopp and Paul de Pass; costumes by Stanley Simmons; lighting by Thomas Skelton; musical direction by Wally Harper; produced by Zev Bufman and the Shubert Organization.
With Martin Vidnovic, Meg Bussert, John Curry, Frank Hamilton, Stephen Lehew, Elaine Hausman, Mark Zimmerman, Jack Dabdoub, Casper Roos, Mollie Smith and Kenneth Kantor.
At the National Theatre through Oct. 15.