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"Bright Star", by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, at the Cort Theatre
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"Bright Star", by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, at the Cort Theatre

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Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson
The Old Globe
et al.

Bright Star
(Bright Star Website)

Music, Book, & Story by Steve Martin
Music, Lyrics, & Story by Edie Brickell

Carmen Cusack, Paul Alexander Nolan
Michael Mulheren, A.J. Shively, Hannah Elless
Stephen Bogardus, Dee Hoty, Stephen Lee Anderson
Emily Padgett, Jeff Blumenkrantz

And an Ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers

Directed by Walter Bobbie
Choreography by Josh Rhodes

At the
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street

Scenic Design: Eugene Lee
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Sound Design: Nevin Steinberg
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Orchestrations: August Eriksmoen
Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Casting: Howard Cherpakov, CSA
Advertising: SpotCo
Production Stage Manager: Michael J. Passaro
Company Manager: Cathy Kwon
Press Representative: DKC/O&M
Music Supervisor: Peter Asher
Music Direction & Vocal Arrangements: Rob Berman

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 10, 2016 Matinee

Totally unexpected, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s new musical, Bright Star, turns out to be the most elegant and nurturing afternoon at the theatre in quite some time. Mr. Martin, of comedic acting fame, has morphed into a gorgeous banjo musician and storyteller, and Ms. Brickell, composer, brings lilting music and lyrics in her collaboration, as well. But, it’s the poignant, heartrending, and eventually upbeat tale that unfolds on the Cort Theatre stage that grabs the emotions and transports the imagination. It’s a tale, over generations of North Carolina families, from 1945-46 back to 1923-24, with bonding, loss, yearning, renewal, and a bit of humor thrown in to dry the eye. Carmen Cusack, as Alice Murphy, is featured, as an adult in Asheville, North Carolina, an editor at a renowned magazine that publishes short stories of promising new writers. A young soldier, Billy Cane (AJ Shively), comes home after World War II, near Asheville, and swoons with a passion for writing and a passion for Margo (Hannah Elless), but it’s his career ambition that drives him to the same magazine offices where Alice offers to give the determined Billy a break with a $10 payment for one story. And so, right there, Bright Star binds the kernel of its layered, expansive plot with its two intertwined leads.

The only drawback in the production is the vagueness of the 1920’s vs. 1940’s scenes, as Ms. Cusack, and her lifelong, on again-off again, romantic partner, Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Paul Alexander Nolan), switch back and forth as teens and adults, along with their respective families, throughout both acts. For the discerning theatregoer, that’s not a problem. But for some at today’s matinee, the vagueness caused confusion, heard at intermission. Some projected dates, here and there, would be worthwhile. Alice’s story as a teen involves an accidental pregnancy and the ultimate fate of her baby, as well as a scholarship for college and related funding. By the second act, generational mysteries collide and cohere, among exquisite songs, dance, and vocal virtuosity. Ms. Cusack’s exceptional vocal talent will surely win her award nominations and acclaim. Her final solo, “At Long Last”, was greeted with enormous accolades. Mr. Nolan, as Jimmy Ray, who was favorably reviewed recently in Daddy Long Legs, sang with strong, clear tones, such as his solo, “Heartbreaker”. Mr. Shively, as the eager young author Billy Cane, sings the first act, title tune, “Bright Star”, with aching urgency. As Billy’s widowed father Daddy Cane, down on the farm, Stephen Bogardus has a natural, paternal presence. Ms. Elless, as Margo Crawford, Billy’s patient girlfriend, brings a retro-styled charm, especially in her song, “Asheville”.

In secondary but pivotal roles, Jeff Blumenkrantz as Daryl Ames, and Emily Padgett as Lucy Grant, provide campy interludes, as Alice’s office assistants. Michael Mulheren performs the role of Mayor Josiah Dobbs, Jimmy Ray’s corrupt, powerful father, in a gut-wrenching scene, singing “A Man’s Gotta Do”. Dee Hoty, as Mama Murphy, and Stephen Lee Anderson, as Daddy Murphy, exude the country folksiness of time and setting. Josh Rhodes has choreographed a chorus in motion, as additional characters and backup singers, combining with Rob Berman’s eloquent, onstage band. Eugene Lee’s scenic design is open, rough-hewn, early American South construction. Jane Greenwood’s costumes have the women in pastel-flowered gingham and puffed shoulders, and the men in short-sleeved shirts and creased pants with suspenders. Japhy Weideman’s lighting gives the scenery a lovely, bucolic aura, and Nevin Steinberg’s sound design keeps the music smooth and sensual. Walter Bobbie, a director’s director, a maestro for exceptional gestalt, deserves kudos for allowing the lyrical, acoustic ballads and country ambiance to draw the audience in. And, kudos to Steve Martin and Edie Brickell for this high class, Broadway show.

Carmen Cusack and Paul Alexander Nolan
in Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's "Bright Star"
Courtesy of Nick Stokes

Hannah Elless and A.J. Shively
in Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's "Bright Star"
Courtesy of Nick Stokes

Michael Pearce, Bennett Sullivan,
Rob Berman, Martha McDonnell
in Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's "Bright Star"
Courtesy of Nick Stokes

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at