Regional Reviews: Boston
The place you call home is one of the important elements of Bright Star as each of the main characters is strongly influenced by their roots, and wanting to escape the small town or embrace their legacy determines the paths they choose. Alice Murphy (Audrey Cardwell) feels that she is being sent away and leaves behind unspeakable pain and disappointment to get an education and build a stellar career in the city. Billy Cane (Henry Gottfried) is optimistic, following his bright star to pursue the opportunity to become a writer in Asheville, while his girl Margo (Liana Hunt) continues to keep the home fires burning back in Hayes Creek. They all learn that love and family ties are not broken by time or distance, and staying true to your dream can make your dream come true.
The narrative is a blend of darkness and light, beautifully reflected in Japhy Weideman's lighting design, and conveyed in the score, the true bright star of the musical. Having listened to the recording by the Broadway cast, I can attest that this ensemble meets the high standard they set. Cardwell's voice wows on the twangy, upbeat tunes, breaks your heart on a pair of Alice's dramatic songs, and soars on the gospel-like penultimate hymn. She shares great acting and vocal chemistry with Patrick Cummings as Alice's love interest Jimmy Ray Dobbs, and Gottfried and Hunt are well-suited to each other vocally as well. David Atkinson (Daddy Cane) and Jeff Austin (Mayor Josiah Dobbs) drive home the messages in their songs, and the latter is a bona fide overbearing father who earns the (good-natured) boos he gets at the curtain call
All of the featured players sing up a storm, including Kaitlyn Davidson and Jeff Blumenkrantz as Alice's assistants Lucy and Daryl, and John Leslie Wolfe and Allison Briner-Dardenne as Alice's parents. The townspeople have a constant presence onstage, their balletic movements and ensemble singing contributing to the fluidity of the Walter Bobbie-directed production. Choreographer Josh Rhodes finds inventive ways for the dance to enhance the songs and advance the story, even when he employs something as simple as a chorus of men knee-slapping. The members of the ensemble move set pieces on and off the stage, and frequently rotate or slide the central skeletal structure that houses several of the musicians and music director/conductor P. Jason Yarcho. Eugene Lee's scenic design adds to the mystical nature of the show, while Jane Greenwood's costumes ground it to time and place.
Bright Star offers a welcome respite as it reminds us of a simpler time when life was unhurried. Optimism was in strong supply for young men returning from war, happy to be alive and reuniting with their families. Finding a job, settling down with a childhood sweetheart, and dancing up a storm at the local honky-tonk was the good life. Women still had to struggle to overcome constraints imposed by men, but they had made strong contributions during the war years and were not quietly going back into submission. The goals may be harder to achieve for some, but the encouraging message imparted by Martin and Brickell is that the "Sun Is Gonna Shine."
Bright Star, through April 15, 2018, at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, 2 Southbridge Street, Worcester MA; Box Office 877-571-SHOW (7469) or thehanovertheatre.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.brightstarmusical.com/tour.php.
Music, Book and Story by Steve Martin, Music, Lyrics and Story by Edie Brickell; Directed by Walter Bobbie; Choreography by Josh Rhodes; Scenic Design, Eugene Lee; Costume Design, Jane Greenwood; Lighting Design, Japhy Weideman; Sound Design, Nevin Steinberg; Music Direction, P. Jason Yarcho; Music Supervisor, Peter Asher; Supervising Music Director and Vocal Arrangements, Rob Berman; Production Stage Manager, Shawn Pennington
Cast (in order of appearance): Audrey Cardwell, Henry Gottfried, David Atkinson, Liana Hunt, Hayden Clifton, Alessa Neeck, Mary Page Nance, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Kaitlyn Davidson, Patrick Cummings, John Leslie Wolfe, Allison Briner-Dardenne, Jeff Austin, Kevin McMahon, David Kirk Grant, Robin DeLano, Devin Archer, Michael Stark