Monday, April 11, 2016

Bright Star

Although in theory I'm a person who likes going to Broadway shows, in actuality--particularly in recent years--it takes a lot to motivate me to spend the time and money to go see a certain show. All of the necessary motivating factors converged recently for Bright Star, the new musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. After seeing the pair interviewed about the show, which incorporates music from the two bluegrass albums they wrote together, I began listening to said albums, which fit right in with the genre of Americana music that I love. Once I started listening, I couldn't stop. Each song is so evocative that listening to one feels akin to reading a short story. A glowing review from a coworker sealed the deal and convinced me that I had to see the show.

(Snapped outside the theater.)

Bright Star is loosely based on an historical newspaper headline. The plot hinges on some surprises so I won't give away too much other than to say that it tells the story of the female editor of a Southern literary journal and a young solider just home from World War II who aspires to be a published writer. There are scenes in a bookstore and plenty of literary name-dropping, making it the perfect show for a bibliophile. All of that is really just a side-note, though, and pales in comparison to the way the story unfolds on stage. The action jumps back and forth between the 1940's and the 1920's, and from scene to scene the female lead, played by Carmen Cusack, either ages or goes back in time--sometimes literally right in front of the audience's eyes. It's a great acting performance that's enhanced by innovative staging. There are no flashy special effects; everything is done out in the open, like when the supporting cast members move around the set pieces, but it's done in such a creative, choreographed way that it feels magical.

(image via here)

An even bigger highlight than all of that is the show's music. It's performed by a small bluegrass band that is in costume and front-and-center on stage. They sit inside a wood framed house that serves as the center piece of the set and that gets pushed around the stage for different scenes. The songs are recognizable from Martin and Brickell's albums, although with slightly altered lyrics in some cases. Hearing them performed within the context of the story and by different voices gives them an added emotional punch. I know I'm going to be listening to the Broadway cast recording once it comes out (and I never listen to Broadway soundtracks).

(image via here)

The final rave I'll give is for the costumes, especially for the female characters, who wore structured dresses and hats during the 1940's scenes and floral farm dresses for the 1920's scenes. All were pretty and perfectly conveyed their time period. I really can't speak highly enough about Bright Star. I would see it again if the opportunity arose and I'll be rooting for it to win some Tony awards (although it's chances may be slim since Hamilton is also in the running this year, which is a bummer).

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