Brigadoon Comes to Skagit Valley


Troy Wageman and Megan Chenovick from Brigadoon

Mists of the Highlands Reach Skagit
by Bev Crichfield – Skagit Valley Herald

 Mount Vernon, WA – Welcome to the Scottish Highlands, where the mists of the moors hide a magical town called Brigadoon, and weary travelers can spend a day enjoying good music, friendship and even find the ever-elusive true love of their lives.

But be careful — it can only happen one day out of a century.

Everything about the Broadway musical “Brigadoon” is enough to make a woman swoon, said Brenda Mueller, director of the Lyric Light Opera’s production of the 1947 Lerner and Loewe classic set for three weekends in July at McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon.

“You cannot find any more beautiful music from a musical than in ‘Brigadoon,’” Mueller said, while preparing to lead the chorus through a scene last week during rehearsals.
The romantic storyline continues to satisfy the imaginations of audiences years after it was written, Mueller said. “It’s magical. There’s the mists of the Highlands; you enter it and it just sweeps you away.”

The production is the perfect fit for the Scottish-themed lineup of events throughout July in Skagit Valley, Mueller said. Lyric Light Opera is collaborating with the Skagit Valley Highland Games, set for July 14-15 at Edgewater Park in Mount Vernon.

Part of that collaboration has meant a few professional bagpipers who will compete in the games have offered to add the uniquely Highland sound of their instruments to the 23-member orchestra, which includes violins, woodwinds and a more classical style of music than most Broadway musicals.

Although it’s usually performed as a typical stage musical, Brigadoon has been considered borderline opera, and sometimes is performed by opera companies, Mueller said.

Standing in the hallway of the church where the 45-member cast was rehearsing last week, opera singer Megan Chenovick, who plays the female lead Fiona, said she was excited by the opportunity to do some “classical” singing for her part.

“There’s some great music and so many standards that people are going to recognize,” Chenovick said, including the romantic “Come To Me, Bend To Me,” and “The Love Of My Life.”

Some of the tunes were so well-written that there isn’t much a singer has to do to make them new and fresh, said Tim Glynn, who plays the young, energetic Charlie.
“ ‘Come To Me, Bend To Me’ makes me feel so not needed,” Glynn said. The emotions that flow out of the lyrics and music are enough by themselves to sway an audience, he said.

Glynn is one of five professional performers hired by Lyric Light Opera for the $100,000 show. Those leads come from Seattle and have performed with such large theater companies as the 5th Avenue in Seattle and the Village Theatre in Everett and Issaquah.

Many cast members in the Stanwood-area based group are from Anacortes, Arlington, Bellevue, Camano Island, Marysville and Mount Vernon.

“Brigadoon” is the second big Lyric Light Opera production since the group was formed in 2006 out of the remnants of the Northwest Civic Light Opera. It’s a larger, more elaborate — and costly — endeavor than the group’s first show last July, “Annie Get Your Gun.”

And despite the hiring of five professional performers, Mueller said she’s sticking firmly to the group’s aim to provide opportunities for local young theater hounds to learn the ins and outs of theater production.

The professional actors were hired on the condition that they serve as mentors to other, less-experienced members of the cast — an arrangement that’s already reaping benefits, Mueller said.

“We have a high level of excellence in our shows, and this is a part of that,” Mueller said.

She said she’s trying to stay as true as possible to the Scottish tradition.

Despite its Scottish backdrop, the real story of “Brigadoon” is based on a fairy tale from Germany, written by Friederich Gerstacker, about a mythical cursed village. In 1947, when the musical was written for Broadway, the United States had just come out of World War II and American audiences weren’t fond of Germany. So the location of the story and its character names were changed to reflect a Scottish theme.

But the fairy tale edge was kept mostly intact.

In the story, two New Yorkers, Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas, travel to the Scottish Highlands and get lost during a hunting expedition. They hear faint music, and follow it through the heavy mist to a village where everything harkens back to a simpler time. The foreign visitors arrive just in time to witness the wedding of Charlie and his fiancée, Jean.

Through the day they meet a list of colorful characters: The aggressively lovelorn Meg, who’s searched high and low for a husband; Harry Beaton, who is in love with the beautiful Jean; Angus McGuffie, who employs Meg and the gentle and good-hearted Fiona.

Oh, and did we mention that Fiona is beautiful? That goes without saying — this is, after all, a fairy tale at heart.

As the day goes on, Tommy finds himself falling in love with Fiona. The mystery of the village is revealed, too. Turns out, a parish priest 200 years prior to their arrival made a pact with God to make the village disappear only to become visible once every 100 years to protect it from the evils of the outside world. If someone leaves the village, it will disappear into the mist forever.

As the story continues, the future of the village is threatened, jealousy leads to tragedy, and Tommy and Fiona discover they’re a perfect match.

“The reason I like ‘Brigadoon’ so much is that there’s such a really broad emotional spectrum,” said Ryan Edwards of Arlington, who plays the jealous and self-absorbed Harry Beaton. “They explore a lot of difficult emotions that makes the play sentimental, a bit moody, tragic and a bit elated, in back-to-back scenes.”

Aside from the rigorous dancing that incorporates hopping, twirling and some ballet — a totally new challenge for Edwards — the other big challenge for the cast has been adopting an authentic, but intelligible, Scottish brogue.

“I didn’t know anything about the Scottish accent (before the show),” said Jeannette d’Armand of Seattle, who plays the bubbly and flirtatious Meg.
“You don’t dress up, you dress oop,” she added, laughing.

Then there’s the constant rolling of the “Rs,” that keeps the actors constantly thinking about their words, she said.
“But it’s been fun for me — something new to learn,” she said.

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