Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wilmette's Starlight Theatre Still Shines Bright With Brigadoon

Community Theater Spotlight

a classic musical
by Lerner & Loewe
Wallace Bowl, Wilmette, IL
Thru July 28

One of the great perennial delights of summer in Chicago's north suburbs is the annual free musical production presented by the Wilmette Park District's Starlight Theatre.

A week after my first visit to Chicago's Theater on the Lake--an indoor venue that has held summer productions since 1953--I attended Starlight's production of Brigadoon at a venue more fitting my perception of "theater on the lake," especially as I've seen shows there since childhood.

Set within Gillson Park along the Lake Michigan shoreline, Wallace Bowl is an open air amphitheater that has been presenting summertime entertainment since the 1940s.

Though a variety of concerts are presented as well--you can see the full schedule here--I am familiar with the unique, Romanesque venue almost exclusively through Starlight's staging of classic musicals. Shows are typically presented--free of any charge--over the course of three weekends, usually in July.

Given the bowl's setting amidst a cluster of evergreens just steps from the beach, this summer's selection of Brigadoon--which tells the tale of a village in the Scottish Highlands that magically appears for one day every 100 years--is especially idyllic.

I don't like to really review or rate community theater productions--especially free ones comprised largely of teenage performers--but there was nothing about the quality of this version of Brigadoon that suggests you won't have a terrific time out under the stars.

Having seen an exquisite version of Brigadoon just last summer by Light Opera Works in Evanston, I was enlightened to the lush beauty of the score by Frederick Loewe with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Although the collection of songs--first heard on Broadway in 1947--isn't quite as brilliant as the duo's subsequent masterpieces--My Fair Lady and Camelot--it's not too far shy.

Starlight's rendition wasn't quite as scintillating as Light Opera Works' more professional production, but with a wonderful vocal performance by Nellie Shuford as Fiona and a large cast backed by a live orchestra, it was a pleasure to hear such songs as "Down on MacConnachy Square," "I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean," "Come to Me, Bend to Me," "Almost Like Being In Love" and others.

The combination of cicadas, occasional microphone problems and the orchestra sounding a bit soft served to remind of the obstacles that accompany musical theater al fresco, but given the comfortable weather, enjoyable performances, enchanting setting and ideal admission price, the hindrances were slight compared to the delights.

Especially if you're trying to indoctrinate children into the joys of musical theater, Starlight offers an exceptional, cost-free introduction. Thus, I was somewhat chagrined that among a sparse crowd overall, there were rather few families. I'm not aware of any place else in the area akin to the Wallace Bowl, so even if you can't make it to Brigadoon, you should certainly take note of this local treasure.

But you still have three chances to see Brigadoon--without waiting 300 years--as it will end its summer run with performances this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Bring your own chair, but based on Saturday's attendance, you should have no problem finding a spot to sit even if you arrive close to the 8:00pm showtime. Parking is free and plentiful in nearby lots and a pre- or post-show stroll along the beach, through the park or past the beautiful Baha'i Temple nearby can only add to what should be an entrancing evening.

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