Anyone wondering where to see great musical theater without having to pay a fortune would do well to check out the USC Theater Department’s upcoming schedule.  If the just closed production of Lerner and Lowe’s Brigadoon is any example, USC’s theater kids are some of the best musical theater performers around, and working under famed professionals like director John Rubinstein and choreographer Troy Magino, they are doing sensational work indeed.

In fact, though I’ve seen Brigadoon more than once before, this is the first time I’ve found myself really loving the show—the first time Brigadoon has truly touched my heart.  Its tale of a magical land which becomes visible to mere mortals only once every hundred years is about as romantic as musicals come and like the land which bears its name, Brigadoon (the musical) has aged scarcely a day since its Broadway premiere in 1947.

As Fiona, Briga Heelan is an incandescent stage presence with a glorious soprano, a star in the making if there ever was one. Providing fine support are an enchanting Mary Kate Wiles as “bonnie Jean” and teen-idol-ready Christopher Higgins as her intended, Charlie Dalrymple.  Adam Peterson does intense, committed work as the doomed Charlie. Leading man Joe Sofranko (Tommy) makes for a fine romantic hero opposite Heelan and their love story is both believable and involving. Lending stature, age, and gravitas is an excellent Will Harris as Mr. Lundie.

Two other performers stand out among the huge cast.  Ray Chase has abundant stage presence and a great, dry delivery as cynical Jeff Douglas, perhaps the only lead character in a musical who neither sings nor dances. Stealing every scene she’s in as saucy Meg is petite firecracker Lili Fuller.  Her two numbers (“The Love Of My Life” and “My Mother’s Wedding Day”) are showstoppers.

Vocally, this is a mostly very strong cast, with Helan, Higgins, and Fuller making the strongest impression.  As dancers, this is an ensemble as proficient as any you’ll see in local professional productions. Magino pays tribute to the classic Agnes de Mille ballets and jigs, all the while creating almost entirely new choreography, which his cast execute with grace and precision.

The orchestra, under the direction of Parmer Fuller, provides impeccable accompaniment to the hit-filled Lerner and Lowe score. Set designer extraordinaire Tom Buderwitz’s work here is as fine as any he has done professionally.  Costumes by Alexis de Forest, Griffin Behm’s lighting, and Philip G. Allen and Sean Foote’s sound design are equally gorgeous.

Completing the huge cast in expert fashion are the following very talented USC students: Michael Alfera (Sandy Dean), Emma Chandler (Kate), Peter Erian (Angus MacGuffie), Emily Iscoff-Daigian (Jane), Mark Jacobson (Archie Beaton), Sean Kranz (Stuart Dalrymple), Thomas Krottinger (Andrew MacLaren), Natalie Storrs (Maggie Anderson), Ben Trustman (Frank), Bernadette Anne Tyra (Fishmonger), and (appearing as the townsfolk of Brigadoon) Alycia Adler, Giana Bommarito, Kim Dalton, Allen Darby, Sydney Blair Friedman, Matthew Harkenrider, Brittany Kovler, Janet Krupin, Michael Marchak, Emily Spencer Munson, Chris Narrie, Rachel Newman, Eileen Cherry O’Donnell, Rebecca Pollock, Matthew Salvatore, Christina Senesi, Danielle Skalsky, Adrienne Storrs, Ashley Strumwasser, Anne-Marie White, and Ashley Wright. Authentic bagpiper George Hall makes a cameo appearance.

The musical theater business is a tough one, and USC’s is far from the only fine program for aspiring performers. Still, don’t be surprised if you see some of the names in this review starring in major professional productions and maybe even appearing on Broadway someday. They’re that good. (Catch them now while they’re still local and affordable.)

–Steven Stanley
April 11, 2009

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