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REVIEW: Bright Star Offers Twangy, Toe-Tapping Fun #BrightStar @attpac

Bright Star is a bluegrass musical that first opened on Broadway in 2016 as the result of a creative partnership between renowned comic, writer and banjo player, Steve Martin, and the talented songstress, Edie Brickell.

Although set in the hills of North Carolina, it’s worth nothing that this creative duo has roots in the Lone Star State: Edie Brickell grew up in Dallas and Steve Martin hails from Waco.

Edie Brickell and Steve Martin (c) Joan Marcus
Edie Brickell and Steve Martin (c) Joan Marcus

The storyline for Bright Star was inspired by the “Iron Mountain Baby” of 1902, but beyond the inciting incident, it’s pure fiction. I decided not to read anything about the show before seeing it, and I’m glad. The surprise elements and plot twists were fun to experience, so I won’t divulge any spoilers here.

The first act, for instance, ends with a shocking event. Seriously, there were a few gasps in the audience when it occurred, and during intermission, I overheard a woman say, “This plot is freaking me out. Please tell me the show ends well!”

That said, after you see the show, here’s a great article to read by Caleb Pirtle that includes a 1902 newspaper clipping of the strange-but-true news item that inspired the story for Bright Star. Also, here’s a YouTube clip of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell performing a song inspired by the event called “Iron Mountain Baby”.

Bright Star catches flak in some circles for its happy ending and melodramatic bent. In interviews (such as this one) Steve Martin and Edie Brickell have stated that they wanted to create something sincere and without cynicism, so keep this in mind when you head to the theater.

Cast of "Bright Star" (c) Joan Marcus
Cast of “Bright Star” (c) Joan Marcus

The plot for Bright Star revolves around the connections between Billy Cane (Henry Gottfried), a budding small-town writer, and Alice Murphy (Audrey Cardwell), a jaded big-city magazine editor. As an author, I’m a sucker for any plots involving writers, so I was immediately hooked.

As Alice Murphy, Cardwell seamlessly transitions back and forth from spunky teen to a world-weary 30-something. Her chemistry with Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Patrick Cummings) was a delight, as was the sweet frisson between Billy Cane and Margo Crawford (Liana Hunt.)

Flirty moments were balanced with one-liners traded between secondary characters Jeff Blumenkrantz and Kaitlyn Davidson, who played the snarky office staff at Alice Murphy’s literary magazine.

The storyline for Bright Star hops between two time periods: the early 1920’s and the post-war 1940’s. This gives Martin and Brickell ample room to inject the folksy score with Jazz Era flair and hints of Big Band rhythm. I really enjoyed the music and found myself tapping my toes throughout the production. Many of Martin and Brickell’s songs offer haunting harmonies and beautiful syncopation and are worth listening to on their own.

Cast of "Bright Star" (c) Joan Marcus
Cast of “Bright Star” (c) Joan Marcus

Since Steve Martin wrote the Bright Star book, the witty dialogue and humorous observations sprinkled throughout the show came as no surprise. Also as expected, Edie Brickell’s lyrics were earnest and poetic.

Eugene Lee’s scenic design was sparse yet clever. It offered just enough staging for my mind to fill in the gaps. The choreography by Josh Rhodes had a very natural feel, rather than simply being a series of dance numbers. That said, I especially loved the boozy physical humor in “Another Round.”

Bright Star is well cast, with strong performers across the board. The opening night performance in Dallas brought the audience to its feet for a well-deserved standing ovation at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House. The show plays here through June 24th, so grab your tickets before it’s too late!

Cast of "Bright Star" (c) Joan Marcus
Cast of “Bright Star” (c) Joan Marcus

Follow #BrightStar on social media:

Official website: Bright Star
Twitter profile: @BrightStarBway
Hashtag for social media: #BrightStar
AT&T Performing Arts Center on Twitter & Instagram: @ATTPAC

See Bright Star in Dallas:

Where: AT&T Performing Arts Center/Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Tickets: Check availability and book online at the AT&T Performing Art Center official website.
Runtime: Runs for 2 1/2 hrs, with a 15-minute intermission.

PLEASE NOTE: While tickets were provided for review purposes, the opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.

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