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Brigadoon -- The Musical


The classic, Broadway "musical" Brigadoon portrays a silly but well-meaning stereotype of Scotland -- hence the word "Brigadoonery" describes anything that is grotesquely Scottish-like, but well-intentioned and essentially harmless.

Brigadoon, written by the duo of Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music), was very popular in its time. Directed by the legendary Bobby Lewis, the show opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre on 13 March, 1947, and ran for 581 performances. It continues to enjoy frequent revivals to this day. Brigadoon was also made into a movie of the same name, starring the immortal Gene Kelly. You can still catch it occasionally on late night television. You might also hear some of its songs on the radio now and then. Among them, the best-known is, "Almost Like Being In Love" (which you are hearing right now if you have a midi driver configured in your browser.)

Lerner's story was based on a story by Friedrich Gerstacker that had nothing whatever to do with Scotland. The original tale concerned the mythical, German village of Germelshausen that fell under an evil, magic curse. In Lerner's play, the Scottish village of Brigadoon became enchanted centuries ago. The community remained unchanging and invisible to the outside world except for one, special day every hundred years, when it could be seen and visited by outsiders. Visitors might be allowed to stay, but if anyone ever left Brigadoon, the miracle would be broken -- and that would be the end of them all.

By fortunate coincidence -- "fortunate," because otherwise there would be no story to tell ! -- a couple New Yorkers visiting Scotland on a hunting trip stumble upon a remote, misty glen on the very day when Brigadoon makes its brief, centennial appearance. No doubt as a courtesy to the hordes of American tourists who drop in uninvited every hundred years, the accommodating denizens of the village have taken time out from their hectic social schedule to abandon Gaelic and learn modern-day English -- but they have thoughtfully retained a slight Scottish burr and a few pungent Scotticisms to add just the right touch of ethnic flavor to their speech.

In their linguistic prowess, the Brigadoonians are reminiscent of the quaint residents of the mythical, lost land of Shangri-La , made famous in the book and the movie Lost Horizon. Those people had somehow acquired the ability to speak perfect English (albeit with a pleasing, vaguely "oriental" accent) despite centuries of isolation in the remotest mountain valley of Tibet! But we digress ...

On with our story ...

Introductions being thus facilitated by Scots who speak American English as their lingua franca, tourist boy, Tommy, meets resident girl, Fiona. (A kind reader with the same moniker points out that the very name "Fiona" did not exist in the 1700s. It was created during the Nineteenth Century by the writer William Sharp -- he devised it from the Gaelic word for "fair.") Anyway, for the young couple it's love at first sight -- another improbable quirk of fate essential to the success of old Broadway musicals. Unfortunately, the love birds have a large problem to resolve. Fiona cannot leave Brigadoon, without breaking the centuries-old magic spell, thereby dooming all her friends and relations. On the other hand, if Tommy chooses to stay with her, he must leave behind everything and everyone in the modern world that he knows.

However a much more pressing problem arises. Tommy happens to have arrived in town on the wedding day of Fiona's younger sister, Jean -- and Jean's ex-boyfriend disapproves of her new marital arrangement. In a titanic funk, the abandoned lover threatens to leave Brigadoon, with the ensuing dire consequences for the rest of his community. Luckily, a convenient solution soon presents itself.

Oh yeah -- Tommy's engagement to another woman back home in New York is an additional complication. (The cad ! ) He departs for New York; but, realizing his mistake, he changes his mind and returns to Scotland, where ... we could continue, but why give away the ending? See the movie, or better yet, catch the play if you get the chance!

Brigadoonis great fun if you have little concern for cultural authenticity. The show is a good-natured, if fanciful, interpretation of all the nice things that North Americans imagine about Scotland, replete with swinging kilts, bonnie lassies, droning bagpipes, Highland flings and Heather on the Hill (another of the songs from this light but enduring musical.)


The Real Brig o' Doon

The name of Lerner's imaginary locale was probably based on a well-known Scottish landmark. The real Brig o' Doon (Bridge of Doon), can be seen in Alloway, Scotland, in the heart of Robbie Burns country.

According to the tale made famous by Burns, this ancient, single span, constructed of stone in the 13th century, is the very bridge over which the legendary Tam o' Shanter fled on his horse Meg in order to escape from the three witches who were chasing him.


   

A Wee Scotty

1997-2004  Neil Harding McAlister