Mr. Wheeldon’s dances certainly fit that bill, and so does Loewe’s triple-crème music, sensitively rendered by the Encores! orchestra under the direction of Rob Berman. Much more than ordinary Encores! outings — the staging, an off-season addition, was the centerpiece of a gala that raised $1.9 million for City Center — this production of “Brigadoon” is a polished affair, with no books in hand and uncompromised ambition.
But by “vehemently alive,” I refer especially to Kelli O’Hara, who stars as Fiona MacLaren. It can be no surprise that she sings the part well; she has always sung everything well. And though her voice, impossibly, continues to bloom, it is the naturalness of her style, both in singing and acting, that make her irreplaceable in material like this.
Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Naturally, her duets with Patrick Wilson as Tommy Albright, the American who stumbles upon Brigadoon and falls in love with Fiona, are gorgeous: “The Heather on the Hill,” “Almost Like Being in Love” and “From This Day On” aren’t standards for nothing. (Mr. Wilson, in big voice, has something to do with that.) But also in scenes that can otherwise turn twee, Ms. O’Hara releases the best part of the writing with an almost Spartan unfussiness.
Unfussiness is not the hallmark of Lerner’s style here or anywhere. The disappearing-town concept is one of his many story ideas (see also “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”) that works better in the setup than in the unwinding. And in its obvious debts to “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel” — exotically set romances with contrasting serious and comic couples — “Brigadoon” can seem derivative, even in its oddity. Only the inventiveness of Aasif Mandvi and Stephanie J. Block keeps the comic couple’s material (his pickled, hers raunchy) aloft.
Mr. Wheeldon does the same for the rest of this “Brigadoon.” His dances, nodding to the Agnes de Mille originals, tell us something useful about 1940s musicals. Not yet very distant from their roots in operetta and vaudeville, the most successful shows of the period were often hodgepodge affairs, “integrated” only in the way a salad is, with lumps of this and that thrown in. Audiences might have tolerated a serious story, and been grateful for a song like “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” meltingly sung here by Ross Lekites. But they expected such items to be served with comic specialties, pop-up choruses and full-out ballets on the side.
Mr. Wheeldon certainly doesn’t disappoint in the ballets, many of which are led by Robert Fairchild, who retired last month from New York City Ballet after 11 years. (The City Ballet star Edward Villella played the role in a 1963 City Center revival.) Happily, Mr. Fairchild has grown as a singer and actor since he starred in Mr. Wheeldon’s 2015 stage musical version of “An American in Paris,” in which he seemed uncomfortable with his mouth open.
Or maybe the part of Harry Beaton — a threatening, lovesick lad who is basically the Jud Fry of Scotland — just suits him better. Either way, he brings a thrilling fury to the role, and makes of the sword dance that ends the first act an athletic psychodrama.
But it’s between the dances that Mr. Wheeldon most surprisingly shines. The first act, on a set defined mostly by props and projections, moves as fast as can be — a generally good idea not always realized at Encores! At the same time, he focuses on scraping the book to its most penetrating and performable essence. The romance really reads as romance, the threat as threat. The themes that Lerner presumably set out to dramatize, but that too often get lost amid all the heather and hokum, shine forth: that love can make you homeless, that happiness requires sacrifice, that time is elastic — at least in the human heart.
If, in the second act, Mr. Wheeldon’s invention can’t outrun Lerner’s creeping incoherence, he can at least abridge it. The show’s awkward ending doesn’t undo the gift of the rest.
The calendar will, though. There are only six more performances before “Brigadoon” disappears, this time perhaps forever, on Sunday.