Except for a most unwelcome pre-curtain speech, Denton Yockey, executive director of Lone Star Performing Arts Association, puts on a bonny show in Brigadoon, Lerner and Loewe's enduring 1947 Scottish fantasy, which opens Galveston Island Outdoor Musicals' 19th season. In casting the leads, Yockey has signed crowd favorites from last year's offerings. On the technical front, he's overseen major renovations. And there's nothing like entering the ingeniously intimate amphitheater to find chorus members in Scottish garb hawking "air conditioning in a cup" (lemon ice) while period folk music, wafting from loudspeakers, caresses the patently fake set of the enchanted titular town in the Scottish Highlands. When I bought one of the $3 frozen delights, I couldn't help but call the gal selling it to me "lassie."
A few moments later, I had trouble not calling Yockey something altogether different. For ten minutes -- a lifetime in the theater -- he thanked sponsors, announced upcoming shows, even introduced his wife, who's appeared in many of his productions, and his newborn, who hasn't (yet). Do we really need to hear a self-serving spiel about a contest in which Lufthansa Airlines will fly some lucky season-ticket holder to Europe, especially since most of the babble is prominently displayed in the program anyway? A pre-curtain speech just isn't the time or place for advertisement. (Yockey isn't alone here. Frank M. Young, of Theatre Under the Stars, always goes on for what seems like 20 minutes. And that Rebecca Greene Udden has her say at Main Street Theater, and Sidney Berger can't resist regular pre-show chats at Stages, suggests the smaller companies aren't immune either.) Besides the rude awakening to the fact that we're being held hostage, pre-curtain speeches spoil theater's uniquely anticipatory mood; the magical willing suspension of disbelief is threatened even before things get under way.
Surely part of the reason Yockey proceeded to bring on-stage the president of his board of directors was because such toadyism helped secure funding for an orchestra pit. Never again will Galveston Island audiences be subjected to shows performed to taped music. So while I don't applaud Yockey's means, I am thrilled by the end of theatrical karaoke. Yockey should work next on sound quality. Too, body mikes repeatedly go on the fritz, and veteran Galveston Island musical director Art Yelton sometimes drowns out the singers. And while the orchestra pit is a plus, it doesn't quite contain the double bass, the large head of which invades the acting area. Also in need of improvement: the food. Though there are lots of picnic tables and plenty of lawn space, the concessions are paltry. And it seems a shame to have removed the gift shop. One more thing: since two of each season's five shows occur indoors at the Grand 1894 Opera House, the name Galveston Island Outdoor Musicals really must change.
Little of that, though, has much direct impact on the pleasures of Brigadoon, the familiar story of what happens when two American tourists stumble into a town that reawakens one day every hundred years. But while men set the musical in motion, the lead actresses are the ones who make us believe. Marie-Laurence Danvers, as fair maiden Fiona, is all sweetness and light, suffused with the old-fashioned sensibilities Lerner and Loewe revel in. Her doe eyes when she meets the American Tommy are proof positive that love at first sight exists, and she sings her character-defining "Waitin' for My Dearie" with effortless, angelic timbre. She even charmingly skips off-stage during curtain calls.
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Her radiant goodness goes a long way toward making Robert Gallagher seem less bland as Tommy than he actually is. Though pleasant, his nice-guy leading man is generic. He's also too boyish-looking for the part. His character's stirring declaration, "There But For You Go I," comes off uninflected, and when the couple gather "The Heather on the Hill" and later proclaim that the excursion was "Almost Like Being in Love," Danvers alone finds the purity to make these unabashedly romantic melodies the timeless gems they are.
Ann Arvia, as dairy vendor Meg, Fiona's best friend, is so pleasantly lusty that it becomes perfectly clear in "The Love of My Life" how again and again she can give her heart -- and a few other things -- away. She's paired off with Tommy's wisecracking sidekick Jeff, and since Terence Goodman looks a bit like Rich Little and assumes his delivery even more, she, too, makes her man better by association.
Deserving of mention from the solid supporting cast is Brian David Bazala as bridegroom Charlie. His take on bachelorhood, "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean," bubbles with good cheer; dulcet tones turn "Come to Me, Bend to Me" into sublime wooing. He's a young actor of bounding talent.
Though scenes tend to black out rather than end, a few gags are overdone and the atmosphere is never quite as hushed or lovely or wondrous as it should be, director M. Seth Reines still instills a communicable joy into the proceedings. A bagpiper marches across a grassy knoll behind the open-air set overlooking a lake; quaint pushcarts are wheeled in and dress fabrics unfurl banner-like; townsfolk huddle when confused, parade when happy. It's no small coup that the actors speak -- and sing -- in credible accents; occasionally, however, their enunciation is fuzzy. The couple next to me insisted that I mention that Reines needs to do something about dry-ice mist blowing straight into the coughing, program-fanning audience. My biggest criticism of him, though, is that he didn't include the entire cast in the finale.
Of course, he may have been precluded by Yockey, who leapt onto the stage during curtain calls to present flowers to the leads. It's a sign of the production's success that it overcame this well-meaning upstaging.
Brigadoon plays through June 24 at Galveston Island Outdoor Musicals Amphitheatre, 13 Mile Road, Galveston. (800) 547-4697; 737-3440 in Galveston.
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