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“Bright Star” Shines on Broadway
Directed by Walter Bobbie
138 West 45 Street
Opened March 24, 2016
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 9, 2016
If you haven’t figured out the end of “Bright Star” by the intermission, you probably haven’t been paying close attention. But even though this may be the most predictable musical that’s hit Broadway in a long time, it is still eminently enjoyable, with a rollicking blue grass score by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, and a sparkling performance by Carmen Cusack, as the female lead, Alice Murphy.
The book, by Martin and Brickell, was inspired by a real event that has enough romance, lucky coincidences and happy conclusions to make this human interest story a real tear jerker. Actually there are two stories in “Bright Star.”
One story (told in a series of flashbacks) takes place in 1923 and concerns the romance between the spunky Alice Murphy (Cusack), the daughter of a local farmer, Daddy Murphy (Stephen Lee Anderson), and the sincere and honorable Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Paul Alexander Nolan), the son of Mayor Josiah Dobbs (Michael Mulheren). When Alice becomes pregnant, Alice’s father and Jimmy Ray’s father conspire to take the baby from her, Mayor Dobbs to protect his son’s future, Daddy Murphy to defend his family’s reputation.
The other story is set in 1945 and focuses on Billy Cane (A.J. Shively), a young soldier recently returned from World war II. Billy wants to become a writer but doesn’t yet realize he’s in love with his childhood playmate, Margo Crawford (Hannah Elless).
The two stories intersect when Billy brings his manuscripts to the Asheville Southern Journal. There he meets the Journal’s editor, who turns out to be Alice, now a no-nonsense businesswoman who has overcome, if not exactly forgotten, her tragic past and made good in the big city.
There’s quite a bit of sentimentality and melodrama in both stories. But this is mitigated by some welcome humor, mostly provided by Jeff Blumenkrantz and Emily Padgett as employees at the Journal.
Because so much of the musical takes place in rural North Carolina, the blue grass score and folksy lyrics are entirely appropriate. And Eugene Lee’s set, gives us a nice look at both rural and urban southern life. Even better, director Walter Bobbie has integrated the set with the musicians by putting them in a wooden structure that looks a bit like an old-fashioned porch.
The songs in “Bright Star” are mostly inspiring, as their titles indicate: “A Man’s Gotta Do,” “I Had a Vision” and, of course, “Bright Star.” If there be cynics, let them scoff. We can all use a little inspiration in these difficult times.
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