Magazine article Variety

Bright Star

Magazine article Variety

Bright Star

Article excerpt

Bright Star

THEATER: Cort; 1048 seats; $145 top

book: Steve Martin

lyrics: Martin. Edie Brickell

starring: Carmen Cusack, Paul Alexander Nolan, A.J. Shively, Hannah Elless

A little bit of bluegrass music is quite enough of a good thing, so it's just bad luck that "Bright Star," a new musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell based on their 2013 Grammy-winning album, "Love Has Come for You," opened hard on the heels of two Off Broadway bluegrass musicals ("The Robber Bridegroom," "Southern Comfort"). "Bright Star" is Broadway-slick under Walter Bobbie's direction, with top créatives involved in the production (which began at the Old Globe) and an appealing lead performance from Carmen Cusack. But its sheer scale overwhelms the sweet but slender homespun material.

The book (written by Martin from a story he and Brickell worked out together) is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and divided into two separate time frames, each with its own set of boy/girl lovers.

In 1923, a smart and sassy girl named Alice Murphy (the excellent Cusack) and a very nice boy named Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Paul Alexander Nolan) fall in love. But Jimmy Ray's father, Mayor Josiah Dobbs (big, blustery Michael Mulheren), has high ambitions for his son, and puritanical Daddy Murphy (Stephen Lee Anderson) preaches hell and damnation to his daughter. When Alice gives birth to a boy, the fathers force the lovers apart and make off with the baby.

Years later, a young soldier named Billy Cane (A.J. Shively) comes home from the war and can't help noticing how little Margo Crawford (Hannah Elless) has grown into such a pretty young woman. But Billy wants to be a writer. So he packs up his manuscripts and heads for Asheville in the hope of being published in the Asheville Southern Journal. Lucky for him, his talent is noticed and encouraged by the editor of the literary journal - none other than Alice Murphy.

Eugene Lee's versatile set looks properly rustic while performing multiple dramatic duties. There are intimate playing spaces for storytelling scenes and room for expansion when choreographer Josh Rhodes needs it for ensemble numbers with a hearty chorus of singers and dancers. But the really neat trick was constructing (on a revolve) the framework for a wood cabin to house the musicians. …

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