Fifteen years have passed since two-time Tony nominee Patrick Wilson (The Full Monty, Oklahoma!) has been in a Broadway musical. “Pathetic, isn’t it? Pathetic,” Wilson says with a sighing laugh.
Pathetic might not be the first word that comes to mind with regards to the actor who has led two massively successful horror film franchises, earned a Golden Globe nominee for Showtime’s Fargo, and guested on Barbra Streisand’s duet album Encores. Still, the theatre has missed him—and he the theatre.
And Wilson has chosen well for his homecoming party: Brigadoon directed and choreographed by Tony winner Christopher Wheeldon at New York City Center, co-starring Tony winner Kelli O'Hara and featuring two-time Tony nominee Stephanie J. Block, Aasif Mandvi, and Tony nominee Robert Fairchild. “When I’m staring at Kelli O’Hara and Stephanie and Aasif—who I did Oklahoma! together [with] 15 years ago—the people that I’ve known and have been watching for such a long time but we haven’t worked together, it feels right,” says Wilson.
It also feels hurried—as is the known obstacle with the quick mountings of City Center’s Encores!. (“As Peter Lawrence, our stage manager, said, ‘It’s like summerstock with professionals,’” jokes Wilson.) Fortunately, Wilson finds groundedness in his co-star. “There’s such a grace and a stillness with her and an honesty that—aside from the gorgeous voice—there’s a very calm partnership,” says Wilson of O’Hara. “It was, truthfully, a very easy chemistry.”
Chemistry is at the heart of the Lerner and Loewe love story. When two American tourists, Tommy and Jeff (played by Wilson and Mandvi) stumble upon an ethereal Scottish village that appears for a single day every 100 years, Tommy falls in love with Brigadoon’s Fiona (played by O’Hara). Conventionally a love story of ingénues, this incarnation offers a weightier take. “It’s also coming at a role north of 40 that is typically played by younger people,” says Wilson. “But I love that because we’re sort of using what it is now to be around 40 and single and can’t figure out why and so it’s not just the young couple in love.”
From O’Hara’s perspective: “Fiona is a stronger character than I remembered.” The actor actually performed in a summerstock production of Brigadoon years ago. “She’s chosen not to just marry anybody, but if she doesn’t find him—the right one—who she feels is right for her then she’s happy and pretty OK.
“But then when she does find him she’s unapologetic about it and I think it’s time for that, too. Being lucky enough to find that sort of thing is not something to be swept under the rug right now,” she continues. “There are things that are worth fighting for and there are things that are worth giving your heart and trust to.”
From The Light in the Piazza to South Pacific to The Bridges of Madison County, O’Hara has authentically inhabited some of musical theatre’s most romantic and sweeping love stories. How does she relinquish herself to it time and again onstage? “I don’t stand here and try to know what a person feels when love has not worked out, but I do have a good marriage and I believe in love. I think it’s easier for me to give into it and not be cynical about it,” she says. “There are reasons and times to trust. I’m not going to try to shy away from that.”
The beauty of Wheeldon’s vision (“The movement, the way he sees things, the picture’s just gorgeous,” says O’Hara) and the mellifluous voices (“When you’re singing opposite Kelli and you hear that voice, you want to match that voice,” says Wilson) will sweep audiences into the romance of Brigadoon.
After all, as O’Hara says, “How would you feel if I said there was a place right now that was beautiful and perfect and you could disappear in it?”