by Sandi Durell
At the onset of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s new musical at the Cort Theatre, there’s a feeling of corn as the bluegrass-country music takes you back to the 1920s thru 1940s in a nostalgia-driven love story – – love interpreted on many fronts. And, it’s not that the corn gets stripped away; you just learn to accept and truly enjoy much of the music, lyrics and storytelling it presents. It overflows with fiddles, banjos and a band led by musical director Rob Berman, all situated in an open cabin that flows easily from place to place where dancers engage in tandem with the musicians.
The story (based on a real-life tale), is written by Martin and Brickell, with music by Martin and lyrics by Brickell. I must note that it’s a pleasure to sit through a production that doesn’t use one four-letter word to convey its message. Ah, nostalgia!
Meet the feisty Alice Murphy (a powerhouse Broadway debut for Carmen Cusack with her warm tonality), first seen as her older self in 1945, and then morphing effortlessly back and forth from there into her young teen years in a little ole North Carolina town of Zebulon, as she teases and titillates the rich son of the Mayor, Jimmy Ray Dobbs (a well cast, Paul Alexander Nolan). She has a way with words and reads incessantly. After a heart-breaking romance and more, Alice leaves the little town on a scholarship funded by an anonymous donor, eventually becoming a professional editor at the Ashville Southern Journal, living life as a single, very independent woman.
Since this is a story about love, we now move to the young Billy Cane (a boyishly innocent A.J. Shively), just returned from the War, who lives in another southern town, and has a penchant for writing, his real life ambition.
His father is played by the always-competent Stephen Bogardus who has been keeping a secret from his son. There’s also a young gal who works at the library, Margo (fresh faced and humorous Hannah Elless), who has her eye on Billy and whose hopes are raised when he comes to greet her. But he’s not ready for a commitment and instead makes his way to Ashville where he meets Ms. Murphy who raises his hopes by buying one of his short stories for $10.
Terrible tragedies occur by virtue of Jimmy’s father (Michael Mulheren) who perpetrates evil to keep his boy from marrying the young Alice and tarnishing his son’s image in business. Alice’s God-fearing father (played by Stephen Lee Anderson) acquiesces to terms presented by Jimmy’s father and must learn to live with himself and Alice’s mother, played by Dee Hoty, for his hand in the malevolent deed.
In the Ashville office mix are Ms. Murphy’s employees, the always delightful Jeff Blumenkrantz and sexy co-worker, played by Emily Padgett, providing some humorous moments.
The lively hootenanny, hand and thigh slapping choreography is accomplished by the talents of Josh Rhodes while director Walter Bobbie makes magic in moving this large cast around seamlessly.
The simple, yet effective, cut out Blue Grass Mountain scenery and cabin by Eugene Lee allow for the cast to shine, most significantly aided by Japhy Weideman’s lighting.
Bright Star has a down home warmth that draws the audience into its glow, making the 2 hours, 30 minutes (with intermission) more than entertaining.
Cort Theatre, 138 West 48 Street, NYC www.brightstarmusical.com
Photos: Joan Marcus
See Theater Pizzazz’ opening night photos/curtain call/after party here: