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Lost in Translation

TUTS's Brigadoon tries to pull 1940s charm into the present day

Rising from the Scottish mist flowing over the stage at the Hobby Center is the magical world of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Brigadoon. The 1947 musical is a throwback to that era. Melodies lilt into heights where only the headiest sopranos and tenors can go, and the choreography floats across the stage on the long legs of only the most capable ballet dancers. Under the direction of Roy Hamlin, Theater Under the Stars' production has dutifully tried to capture that old-time 1940s charm, but the results are sometimes less than enchanting.

It all begins with Tommy Albright (George Dvorsky) and Jeff Douglas (Mark Zimmerman), two Americans hiking through the forests of Scotland. Their cell phone and backpacks let us know that they're from modern times. But Tommy's problems aren't new. Though he's got a good job and a fine fiancée back home in New York, he longs for something more and is even considering postponing his marriage. Jeff, on the other hand, is a practical guy who thinks it's time Tommy stopped his dreaming and just got on with the business of living, which includes getting married.

Of course, the magic that will change everything is hinted at from the beginning, in the music floating across the Highland mist through which the Americans are traversing. It isn't long before the arguing friends go looking for a town they can hear in the distance but can't find on any map.

Cell-phone-carrying audiences will have to suspend 
their modern-day cynicism to buy into 
Brigadoon.
Courtesy of TUTS
Cell-phone-carrying audiences will have to suspend their modern-day cynicism to buy into Brigadoon.

Details

Through March 28; 713-558-2600. $25-$68
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby

Brigadoon turns out to be the sort of magical place where everyone knows everyone else, and they all come together in the town square. Among the shoppers are sisters Fiona (Rachel deBenedet) and Jean (Laura Scott). There's also Charlie (Adam Lambert), Jean's handsome, blond-haired betrothed. Everyone's deliriously happy because today Jean and Charlie will be married at last. But darkness lurks in the shadows in the form of Harry Beaton (Angelo Fraboni). He loves Jean too, and now he can't ever have her. We also learn that Jean's pretty older sister Fiona has never married, which she sings about in "Waitin' for My Dearie."

Into all this energy come Tommy and Jeff, who show up at just about the time Fiona finishes her song about how she's willing to wait forever for the right man. We know immediately that Tommy and Fiona have finally found what they've been longing for. There is, however, one tiny hitch: Brigadoon is bewitched. But Tommy doesn't discover that until he's head over heels.

Like Tommy's friend Jeff, the cell-phone-carrying audience will have to suspend their modern-day cynicism to buy into the story, but that's only part of what troubles this production. The show's real magic should be the love between Fiona and Tommy. But deBenedet and Dvorsky generate so little chemistry that they aren't able to cast much in the way of a theatrical spell over the show. Adding to their problems is the fact that deBenedet's capable voice is ill suited to the light, high music her character sings. And Dvorsky's Tommy never seems quite comfortable in the fantastical place that Brigadoon is. Even the classic duo "Almost Like Being in Love" doesn't bubble to life as it should.

Still, the secondary story of the love triangle among Jean, Charlie and Harry is full of fire. Lambert's gorgeous tenor voice makes Charlie's love songs -- especially the unforgettable "Come to Me, Bend to Me" -- swoon-worthy. And Susan McCarter Olson's choreography, based in part on the original by Agnes DeMille (she worked with DeMille as a young dancer), is made fresh and exciting by the fine dancing of Scott's lovely Jean and Fraboni's angry Harry.

But something has clearly gotten lost in the translation from the 1940s to the present. And while a few elements of the show are worth seeing (especially if you're a fan of big old-fashioned musicals), in the end, this modern production of an old and magical love story fails to enchant.

 
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