The 100-Year Itch

Sure, it's based on a loopy premise, but Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon still attracts audiences in droves. It's most likely to appeal to family audiences: Kids under twelve go for the magic, while their grandparents appreciate the show's optimistic image of an earthly paradise. Country Dinner Playhouse would seem to be the right spot for a show like this one. But though the theater's usual exuberant professionalism is evident among the supporting cast, some of the star players appear to be going through the motions.

The offbeat story concerns two American guys who are lost (in more ways than one) in the Scottish Highlands. One morning a strange little village appears out of the mist; its inhabitants still wear kilts and old-fashioned dresses and are as surprised by the newcomers' appearance as they are secretive about their own history. But whispering about a hometown "miracle" soon gets Yankee hero Tommy and his alcoholic sidekick, Jeff, wondering what's going on.

Tommy meets a dazzling lass, Fiona, and falls madly in love. Then he learns the truth. Two hundred years earlier the local preacher, Mr. Forsyth, was so worried about roving bands of witches that he made a bargain with God: If God would keep Brigadoon in a mystical state of suspension and let it return to earth one day every hundred years, the preacher would give up everything he loved to seal the bargain. For some reason, God agreed.

That means Tommy has to make up his mind: Go back to loveless reality in New York or stay with his sweetheart and sleep for a hundred years every night? It's a ghastly thought, really. After all, what happens when real estate developers discover the neighborhood? What happens if World War III starts and the whole planet is poisoned? Or if space travel from beyond the stars colonizes Earth? Or if the sun explodes? Clearly, Alan Jay Lerner, who wrote the lyrics in 1947, didn't think this thing through. But despite the story's inherent absurdities, songs like "Almost Like Being in Love" and "Come to Me, Bend to Me" make it strangely attractive, even oddly restful.

Dance routines staged by the dashing David deBenedet (who also plays the villain, Harry, with a good deal of steely menace) keep the action spirited--it's always amazing to see how inventive dancers can be in such tight quarters. The musical accompaniment from the four-man band led by Michael Gribbon is unusually bright.

However, the Scottish brogues required of the company are uneven throughout. Only Rachel deBenedet as Fiona keeps her accent up--and even she exaggerates it just a bit. She has grace and presence, and she's played so many roles at CDP that she's as familiar as the cuisine. But she's also beginning to lose the ability to project fresh, young innocence. What's missing from this performance is sincerity: If she doesn't believe herself as Fiona, neither will we.

Randy St. Pierre, another familiar face, is charming and affable as Tommy but seems to be playing it by the numbers. Perhaps this is just a musical, but even the shallows of musical comedy require an actor's ingenuity to energize the material.

That's what makes Marcus Waterman such a treat to watch as Jeff, the boozy second fiddle. Granted, it's easier to play a cynical alcoholic than a romantic lead, but Waterman has a history of finding something real and interesting in his characters--his performance as King Arthur in the CDP's Camelot last year is a case in point.

The best and brightest of the young talents are Thom Lich and Ronni Stark as a couple who are about to marry as the story opens. Claudia Carson plays predatory townie Meg (who finds Jeff irresistible) with endearing brashness, while Joey Wishnia as the kindly old schoolteacher lends ballast to the show. The production also benefits enormously from the presence of dancer Alann Estes and from the gravel-voiced Jeffrey Rhys as Harry's father.

So all the minor details are right on. The problem lies with the larger strokes--getting a group of veteran actors who may be a trifle burned out

with the same old formulas to make an essentially silly story come alive.

Brigadoon, through April 13 at the Country Dinner Playhouse, 6875 South Clinton Street, Englewood, 799-1410.

 
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