Looking Back to Brigadoon

By Marcina Zaccaria . . .

Invitations to theaters are trickling in, however, this week, I played it safe and tuned in to Broadway HD to watch the MGM classic, Brigadoon.

With Music by Frederick Loewe and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, this outstanding musical, set mostly in Scotland, follows Fiona Campbell in a type of wonderland that rivals the Wizard of Oz.  It’s an idyllic, fairytale full of greens and golds.  Director Vincente Minnelli created a mind-boggling set, full of running range, so that each time Cyd Charisse disappears into the distance or Gene Kelly bounds over stones, it is expansive and carefree.

Unlike his admirable performance in On the Town or authoritative supervision in Summer Stock, the muscular Gene Kelly grins broadly while listening as Tommy Albright in Brigadoon.  We watch these MGM classics to see how they handle innovation and what challenges they are taking on in movie magic that year.  

In this 1954 film, Kelly gives a laugh, as 70-80 chorus members glide through the background, dressed in kilts and shawls.  Cows and sheep are grazing while the dancers flow past, devoid of ego or gritty charisma.  Long speeches by a man who looks almost like a leprechaun explains what Brigadoon is.  In an incomparable dance between Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, elegance and grace in curve and line is perfected on the silver screen.

Perhaps, the most memorable moment is the wedding scene.  In the world of Brigadoon, a wedding should be filled with step dancing and plenty of foods on carts.  In the Screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner, anticipation looms large.  Brigadoon becomes a type of tragedy when fights start instead of dance.  This escalation feels harrowing, and the surprising bit of drama breaks the longer, fantastic moments of the dreamy fairytale land that they have introduced to us.

Another crucial moment, about three quarters of the way through the film, is a break-out scene to a New York City bar, where Gene Kelly finds himself enjoying the New York City nightlife.  It’s a far cry from Brigadoon.  Glamour mixed with modern savvy fills in a restaurant set that looks something like Sardi’s.  Gene Kelly stares out into the distance, unable to hear through the peas and carrots of speech from the average NYC patron. While his dinner partner rattles off her thoughts of the day, Kelly looks away, ignoring the inviting conversation.  He longs for Brigadoon, and who wouldn’t?

Brigadoon, starring Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly and Van Johnson, is available this month on www.broadwayhd.com

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