BRIGHT STARMusic, Book & Story by Steve Martin
Music, Lyrics & Story by Edie Brickell
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Director – Walter Bobbie
Choreography – Josh Rhodes
Stage Managers – Geoff Maus and Margot Whitney
Scenic Design – Eugene Lee
Costume Design – Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design – Japhy Weideman
Sound Design – Nevin Steinberg
Hair & Wig Design – Tom Watson
Scenic Design Supervision – Edward Pierce
Associate Choreography – Lee Wilkins
Orchestrations – August Eriksmoen
Music Direction – P. Jason Yarcho
Music Coordinator – Seymour “Red” Press
Original New York Casting – Howard Cherpakov, CSA
Additional New York Casting – Calleri Casting
Los Angeles Casting – Michael Donovan, CSA
Production Stage Manager – Shawn Pennington
Company Manager – David Van Zyll de Jong
Technical Supervisor – Larry Morley
Tour Marketing & Press – Allied Touring
Tour Booking – Broadway Booking Office NYC
Musical Supervision – Peter Asher
Musical Direction & Vocal Arrangements – Rob Berman
Audrey Cardwell as Alice Murphy
David Atkinson as Daddy Cane
Jeff Austin as Mayor Josiah Dobbs
Jeff Blumenkrantz as Daryl Ames
Allison Briner-Dardennne as Mama Murphy
Patrick Cummings as Jimmy Ray Dobbs
Kaitlyn Davidson as Lucy Grant
Henry Gottfried as Billy Cane
Liana Hunt as Margo Crawford
John Leslie Wolfe as Daddy Murphy
Hayden Clifton as Max
Alessa Neeck as Florence
Mary Page Nance as Edna
Kevin McMahon as Stanford Adams
David Kirk Grant as Dr. Norquist
Robin De Lano as County Clerk
Ensemble – Devin Archer, Hayden Clifton, Robin De Lano, David Kirk Grant, Kevin McMahon, Mary Page Nance, Alessa Neeck, Michael Starr
Swings – Kelly Baker, Cody Davis, Donna Louden, Robert Pieranunzi
Dance Captain/Fight Captain – Robert Pieranunzi
Music Director/Conductor/Piano/Accordion – P. Jason Yarcho
Associate Conductor/Accordion/Auto Harp – Max Grossman
Banjo/Acoustic Guitar – George Guthrie
Acoustic Guitar/Electric Guitar – Andrew Zinsmeister
Mandolin/Acoustic Guitar – Wayne Fugate
Violin – Angela Pickett
Bass – Skip Ward
Drums/Percussion – Joe Mowatt
Viola/Violin – David Gold
Cello – David Mergen
Reviewed Performance: 6/12/2018
Reviewed by Eric Bird, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Bright Star was workshopped and performed at the Powerhouse Theatre at Vassar College in the summer of 2013. Bright Star had its world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego on September 28, 2014. It has won a few awards including the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Broadway Musical and Outstanding New Score. Bright Star follows two overlapping stories set 22 years apart. Aspiring writer Billy Cane has just returned from World War II and is trying to become a published writer. 22 years previously Alice Murphy is a fun loving, vivacious young woman that falls for Jimmy Ray Dobbs, the mayor’s son. Through a rousing musical score and creative choreography, the story tells how these individuals lost and then found happiness.
Audrey Cardwell stars as Alice Murphy, a woman too smart for her small Southern town. Cardwell has strong presence and good vocal skills. She gave a very moving performance in “Please Don’t Take Him,” with palpable desperation in her voice and fear evident on her face. I would have liked a stronger performance in “If You Knew My Story.” It was a solid performance, but not as inviting. The most impressive thing about Cardwell was her ability to distinctly portray two different time periods. Throughout the show we see Alice in both 1945 and 1923. Cardwell masterfully altered her demeanor and speech, with relaxed shoulders, a perky smile, and a distinctive southern accent as a bold and reckless teenager. As an adult who has survived emotional turmoil Cardwell presented herself with straight shoulders and a clipped voice. These different mannerisms were so evident and consistent that I could easily track the time portrayed just by watching Cardwell.
Liana Hunt played Margo, the back-country book store clerk. Hunt successfully made her character very endearing, smiling brightly at her crush, getting flustered and stuttering as she spoke to him. She sang well in both “Asheville” and “Always Will.” My favorite moment with Hunt was as her character was stumbling over words in the presence of her crush, blurting things out and then looking genuinely embarrassed at her own comments. Such sincerity made the character of Margo infinitely loveable.
Patrick Cummings starred opposite Audrey Cardwell as Jimmy Ray, the heartthrob of the small town. I enjoyed his interactions with Cardwell as they flirted and argued, seeing the way he smirked as he teased his sweetheart. Cummings had good presence in all his songs but brought an extra sense of hope and optimism to “I Can’t Wait” and then a feeling of loss and despair to “I Had a Vision.” What most impressed me about Cummings was his consistent Southern twang; he managed to deliver every line, spoken and sung, with his accent. I thoroughly enjoyed how well he presented that immersive detail.
Billy Cane as played by Henry Gottfried was the most impressive performer of the cast. Gottfried not only has a powerful voice but also a real skill for endearing himself to the audience. He created a character who was loved for the respectful way he spoke about his military service and to his parents. He was also endearing for the boyish yet bold innocence he took to his interview at the magazine. And Gottfried really delivered in his performance of the song “Bright Star,” with a clear and resonant voice. But what really blew me away was his dancing. Gottfried flowed effortlessly from one movement to the next. He was always on time and always the focal point of his performance. Gottfried’s performance really made the show successful.
Alice’s parents include Daddy Murphy, the overly religious father played by John Leslie Wolfe, and Mamma Murphy, the loving mother played by Allison Briner-Dardenne. Each character showed very different views, from the loving southern mamma who disapproved of her daughter’s modern thinking but supported her when it mattered to the father clinging desperately to his ideals at the cost of his family relationships. Wolfe’s strengths lie in his acting. Every moment he was on stage he showed how strict he was with his rigid back and disapproving tone. This morphed into regret in later years, slumping his shoulders and looking down as he realized that some things were more important than his ideals. Briner-Dardenne shone when she sang. She excelled in “Sun is Gonna Shine.” I could feel her hope and optimism as she comforted her daughter in that song. Together Wolfe and Briner-Dardenne superbly presented the two characters needed to support Cardwell in her presentation of Alice.
Jeff Austin played Mayor Josiah Dobbs, a man very focused on appearances. Austin effectively showed his character’s importance with his posture and presence; he always stood straight and tended to look down on others. He performed well in “A Man’s Gotta Do” and the reprise. His determination rang evident in these songs and I watched him set his jaw and push through with his choices. This contrasted nicely with his evident regret later in the show as he slumped in his chair and drank his liquor, eyes downcast and sarcasm dripping from his voice as he spoke down to those around him. Austin very effectively showed the changes in his character through his change in performance.
Eugene Lee utilized several clever and clear ways to present all the different locations needed for this show. Lee used bookshelves, desks, and tables to alternate between the bookstore, the magazine’s office, to a humble kitchen. He creatively changed the setting in front of a rear door to alternate between an office elevator and the entrance to a grand house. But most impressive was the moving log cabin that contained the orchestra. This wooden house was moved throughout the show to portray different parts of town and even different cities. I loved how versatile it was and how it integrated the orchestra into the performance. When a house in the background didn’t make sense, such as during a scene in a living room, a new background was lowered onto the stage. Lee did an excellent job of making distinctly different settings by masterfully rearranging a few select parts of the stage.
Jane Greenwood did a fabulous job of costuming the set. Her approach was very real and authentic. The costumes were real in that the ensemble didn’t wear matching outfits, lead characters weren’t restricted to a single, symbolic color, and the patterns on the clothes were what you would have found people wearing at that time. I wasn’t fixated on what symbols were presented in the show; instead I saw how things really were for the characters. Greenwood also kept things very historically accurate. I noticed that the costumes were accurate down to the shoes the characters wore and the difference in the hats on the women in different decades. The cuts of the dresses as well were very historically accurate. These details helped to clarify the time setting for each scene as the story alternated between events in the 1920’s and the 1940’s. Overall this was fabulously thorough costuming.
The lights were used throughout the show to both highlight specific characters and help create outdoor scenes. Japhy Weideman consistently got spotlights on the right character at the right time, following them across the stage as needed. He also altered brightness to help portray inside versus outside, night versus day. The most masterful use of lights came in the climax of Act I. Here Weideman pulsed the lights to build anticipation. This successfully took a difficult scene and built the intensity needed for the audience to understand the horror unfolding.
Nevin Steinberg did the sound design immersing us into the Blue Ridge Mountains and the life of North Carolina. From the blow of a train’s whistle to the cry of a baby, the actors were easy to hear, and the level of the sound was comfortable and fit perfectly with the music. Steinberg also effectively timed the sounds used in the climax of Act I to build the suspense. All these things helped to move and present the story.
The choreography was the most impressive part of the show, especially with how Josh Rhodes masterfully choreographed each piece. Each movement flowed so that there was never any distracting pause to the show. I was impressed by how the ensemble would have choreography while other characters delivered their lines, and the choreography never distracted from the story. I was impressed by the solid connection between the dancers in the partner dance numbers. The dancers showed that they know how to perform individually and with a partner. Rhodes also masterfully incorporated props and scene changes into the dances. The best illustration of this is the song “Bright Star,” where a character is making a long trip to a different town. Here large portions of the cast were used, and the constant movement and sense of travel created the bustle of train stops and cities. They moved the set around and sang. All this movement could have created chaos and confusion, but Rhodes choreographed this piece superbly. Each moment and each dancer flowed in such a way as to guide my eye to the correct focal point. Rhode’s choreography was the strongest part of this show.
Bright Star is a fun, visual treat. I enjoyed the choreography and the movement throughout. It included catchy and original songs. The singing was good, and I loved the bluegrass feel. The story really gets you thinking and the characters draw you in to the story. I recommend Bright Star as a fun, active performance that will have you thinking and humming afterwards.
AT&T Performing Arts Center,
2403 Flora St,
Dallas, TX 75201
Performances run through June 24th
Performance times are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm, Sundays at 1:30 and Sunday June 17 at 7:00pm.
TICKET PRICES for Bright Star
Ticket prices range between $25-$158
For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.attpac.org/on-sale/2018/brightstar/ or call the box office at (214) 880-0202.