Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BRIGADOON: Grist for De Mille

First there was the story by Alan J. Lerner about a village that asked for a miracle, to be protected from the dangers of the outside world.  Together with the music of Frederick Loewe, it resonated at the end of World War II, in which so many villages in so many countries had been destroyed, and lives changed forever.  The dimensions of some of those horrors--the Holocaust, Hiroshima--were still being learned, and the threat to every village and town and city in the world of the onrushing nuclear age was apparent.  In the same month that Brigadoon was announced--June 1946-- the United States was conducting the largest and longest series of atomic bomb tests to date in the Pacific.

The first person hired for the Broadway production was not the director.  It was the choreographer, Agnes de Mille.   She was known as an innovator in American dance, with Rodeo and other contributions to ballet theatre.   That 1942 ballet led naturally to the Broadway show with a western theme, Oklahoma! the very next year.  She choreographed a Broadway show each year and had her next enduring hit in 1945 with Carousel.  So by 1946, Agnes de Mille was a seasoned theatre person as well as a choreographer.

With the help and support of director Robert Lewis (who had once danced with her) she suggested changes in the script for Brigadoon, at first to strip it of some of its sentimentality, but basically to add more action through dance.  They added the wedding dance and the sword dance at the end of the first act.  The chase scene that begins the second act was also their invention, and wasn't in the original script.  De Mille developed the funeral sequence from a line or two. The new sequences required additional music, much of it arranged by a specialist in music for dance, Trude Rittman.

 De Mille crossed out whole sections of the script and showed how she could tell that part of the story with movement.  Brigadoon was considered innovative in its use of dance to tell the story.  But de Mille worked so well with Lewis, and got so interested in all facets of the show, that later in 1947, she directed her own Broadway show, Allegro, and staged another the next year.

That Brigadoon became a hit is all the more impressive considering what other shows were on Broadway at the same time.  They included Annie Get Your Gun, Finian's Rainbow and the still-running de Mille choreographed shows, Oklahoma! and Carousel.  De Mille continued to choreograph for Broadway, including for another Lerner and Loewe show (Paint Your Wagon) and several revivals of Brigadoon and her other hit shows.

[Some of this information is from 1992 liner notes by Miles Kreuger to Brigadoon on the Angel label.]

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