Tuesday, May 3, 2022


By Ruth Ross

From the tinkling notes of the fiddles, supported by the steady rhythm of the drums, to the sprightly Bluegrass melodies, it’s immediately apparent that Bright Star is not your standard Broadway musical.

Written by Steve Martin (yes, the comedian) and Edie Brickell and debuted on Broadway in 2016, 
Bright Star is the third and final production of the Summit Playhouse’s 2021-2022 season. Despite the play’s myriad of scene and costume changes, this feisty and talented troupe of players does justice to the score and script to remind us that theatrical excellence resides in our midst.

Inspired by a 1904 story called “Iron Baby,” wherein an infant thrown off a train into a river survives, Martin and Brickell unfold a complicated tale in two eras, decades apart—1922 and 1945-46—set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Two divergent stories, the first of teenage love and unexpected pregnancy and the second about a young veteran of World War II trying to achieve success as a writer, turn out to have an unusual connection. To tell more might spoil any surprises; you’ll have to see for yourself just how these two threads come together by the end.

Lynn Polan once again puts her directorial chops on full display, eliciting superb performances from 17 actors, whether they be in major or minor roles! As Alice Murphy, a luminous Skye Monroe (right, with Steve Gabe) moves effortlessly from ambitious teenager anxious for a college education to escape the confining strictures of her country hamlet and zealously religious parents to an officious, cold magazine editor who speaks her mind no matter whom it hurts.

Her teenaged Alice sings glorious duets with Sean Lynch-Littlejohn as hunky Jimmy Ray Dobbs (left, with David Romankow), equally anxious to leave rural life for college, despite his father’s firm plans regarding his future in the family business. Lynch-Littlejohn’s gawky Jimmy Ray is a terrific contrast to the more driven Alice; his apt depiction of puppy love is palpable in his courting (“Whoa Mama”) and his bright expectations of the unborn child he and Alice conceive one steamy night down by the creek (a yearning “I Can’t Wait”). The couple also executes Megan Ferentinos’ nifty choreography with verve.

The post-war story involves twenty-something army veteran Billy Cane (Billy Kasper, right, on the bus to Asheville), anxious to write stories for the Asheville Southern Journal now that he’s returned from the chaos of battle. Kasper is youthful optimism personified, especially in his rendition of the title song, “Bright Star,” a rousing, yet soulful, anthem that aptly describes the dreams of the three young protagonists as they plot their futures.

Able support is provided by Alexa Rojek (left) as perky bookstore owner Margo, in love with Billy since she was a child; Steve Gabe and Lora Fortgang as Alice’s rigid, self-righteous parents; and David Romankow as Mayor Josiah Dobbs, Jimmy Ray’s evil, conniving father. Complicating Billy’s career trajectory are Joe Piserchio as a full-of-himself assistant magazine editor and Mary Elizabeth Gismonde as his assistant, the more worldly Lucy, who has set her romantic sights on Billy. Gismonde’s talent is evident in the raucous “Another Round” at the Asheville watering hole; she’s a real "belter" and energetic dancer who really shines in what is the production’s most complex choreography.

Set designer extraordinaire Roy Pancirov provides a marvelous backdrop to the three stories: The six-piece Bluegrass band, ably led by Musical Director Joe DeVico, sits permanently above the action at the back of the stage as various pieces of furniture are wheeled on and off to change scenes, locations and eras. Ann Lowe’s costume design beautifully telegraphs the difference between the country hamlets of Zebulon and Hayes Creek and the more urban Asheville. And thanks to her dressers, Monroe’s Alice changes attire to switch between her two “personalities” in the blink of an eye! Mark Reilly’s lighting enhances the atmosphere and signals the times of day, and Wendy Roome uses cricket and frog sounds to transports us to the woods and streams of western North Carolina.

Bright Star’s plot might be predictable, and the characterization underdeveloped, but the Summit Playhouse’s ambitious production is a charming, toe-tapping, shining feast of masterful melodies that keep the action moving along and become a prominent story-telling device.

Once again, the folks at the Summit Playhouse have produced a musical that will appeal to theatergoers aged 15 to 95! It’s onstage at 10 New England Avenue in Summit through May 15, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. Call the box office at 908.273.2192 or visit for tickets and more information.

Photos by Sam Nissen.