The Chicago director adds her golden touch to classic love story.
Although she’s not a Chicago-native, choreographer and director Rachel Rockwell has impressed the Windy City. The award-winning director has entertained us with productions ranging from Sweeney Todd to 42nd Street, and this summer she’s made her Goodman Theatre debut with the first major American revival of Brigadoon in more than 20 years.
“When Liza Lerner approached me about working on the piece, I was tremendously flattered, but I wasn’t thinking that it was actually going to happen,” Mrs. Rockwell says, referring to the daughter of Alan Jay Lerner, the lyrist and playwright of the musical classic. “We met and really hit it off. I walked away and called my husband and said, ‘You are not going to believe this, but I think I just got Brigadoon!’”
Since her first directorial debut in 1993, Ms. Rockwell has been a force in the Chicago theater scene, earning several Joseph Jefferson Award nominations, which recognize excellence in Chicago theater, and a win for her work on Ragtime. She has also been named Chicagoan of the Year: Theater 2012 by the Chicago Tribune and Best Director by Chicago Magazine. What’s more, she’s not the only one in her family with artistic chops. Her family includes an actress mother, professional drummer brother, songwriter father and Broadway sound designer husband.
Armed with her expertise, she was more than prepared to take on the revival of the romantic classic Brigadoon, which follows American tourists Tommy and Jeff as they stumble upon a mythical Scottish town that only appears once every 100 years. After falling in love with one of its locals, Tommy must decide if his newfound love is worth pursuing, even if it means staying in the town forever.
“I really wanted to freshen the book up to help it appeal to a broader audience,” Mrs. Rockwell says. “We aren’t so much modernizing it as strengthening the rules of engagement and filling in the blanks.” One way she and librettist Brian Hill added depth to the story was focusing more on historical events and adding rich layers to the Scottish town’s cultural identity. “Modern audiences expect that kind of detail and accuracy.”
Mrs. Rockwell also used her personal experience to add to the aesthetic of the production. Since the age of 13, she studied the art of ballet…a beautiful form of storytelling she says is often underutilized in musicals. “My choreography almost always tends to be more classical, because that is my background. It’s been really challenging and satisfying to try to blend more traditional Scottish dancing with ballet to tell the stories in Brigadoon.”
By Madeleine Ptacin