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.
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.
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 www.TheSummitPlayhouse.org for tickets and more information.