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Bright Star is a hidden gem in recent Broadway releases. North Carolinians would agree that this show – its music and characters especially – capture the heart of our state. Your "Broadway connection" indeed, North Carolina Theatre has facilitated Bright Star's first production in Raleigh by bringing the show's national tour to the place of its inspiration. Written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, the musical tells a story of love, loss, and family, with a folk and bluegrass score that weaves the plot together as it skips forward and backward in time.
Bright Star hops between 1923-24 and 1945-46 in telling the story of Alice Murphy. In 1923, at the age of sixteen, after a dance in Zebulon, NC, Alice and the mayor's son, Jimmy Ray, make love, resulting in a child. Displeased after the baby boy is born, Mayor Josiah Dobbs takes the child, claiming that he will put him up for adoption. Instead, the mayor throws the baby and his valise into the river. The main narrative of Bright Star follows the story of Alice as she hopes to find the son taken from her. We are also treated to a side story that takes place in 1945-46 about Billy, a young writer whose mother has recently died. Billy's story is woven into the main plot when he submits his writings to Alice, now editor of a journal in Asheville, and the two prongs of the play cathartically meet.
Director Walter Bobbie, Bright Star's original Broadway director, has created a fabulous touring production. The musical as a whole feels like a seamless tapestry, with gliding, natural scene changes facilitated by the ensemble, who were crucial for both visual and musical ambience. The stage is slightly dominated, but not overwhelmed, by a wooden house that serves as both the orchestra "pit" and part of the scenery. The orchestra's presence on stage caused the orchestra members to function as characters themselves. These extremely versatile musicians, under the direction of P. Jason Yarcho, are crucial for the authenticity of the show and its different settings. Each instrument was highlighted throughout the show, especially in the Entr'acte, an instrumental number that started off the second act.
The effectiveness of the cast cannot be understated. Audrey Cardwell's Alice Murphy was nuanced and brilliant, as she deftly brought Alice to life both as a 16-year-old and 23 years later as an adult. The same was true for Patrick Cummings' Jimmy Ray. The rest of the cast was flawless as well, such as Jeff Blumenkrantz's reprisal of his on-Broadway role as Daryl and the strong female supporting leads of Margo (Liana Hunt) and Lucy (Kaitlyn Davidson). None of the cast grew up in North Carolina, but their accents and demeanor could have fooled even the pickiest Southerner. (Bios of the cast and crew can be found on Bright Star's website.)
Some highlighted numbers included the pivotal "A Man's Gotta Do" to conclude the first act, where Mayor Dobbs makes his pivotal decision. Musical and lighting effects created the harsh, intense train setting that shapes the anger in the mayor's song. In the second act, the vibrant "Another Round" featured the cast and ensemble with their best choreography of the show. When Alice and Jimmy Ray reunite 23 years later, their duet, "I Had a Vision," was absolutely gripping. The show concludes with Alice's triumphant "At Long Last," where Cardwell shone the brightest as a vocalist. There is no question that this production was very well received by an audience who understands the nuances of the setting and story, making it a must-see.
Bright Star continues through Sunday, April 22. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.