BWW Review: Lyric Arts' Meteoric BRIGHT STAR Illuminates Humankind's Frailties through Bluegrass Melodies
An arresting artistic light shines over Lyric Arts in September 2019. To begin their fall season, Anoka's enterprising theater company produces on the Main Stage Theater, BRIGHT STAR—a 2016 award winning musical by the creative genius of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. These two talented artists captured an interpretation of their Grammy Award winning album "Love Has Come For You" in their engaging production set in North Carolina through flashbacks beginning in 1945 that returns to the early 1920's. Spirited compositions featuring bluegrass melodies enrapture the audience, while the musical's Southern ambiance and characters bring this uniquely American musical genre to stage life in one memorable and mesmerizing evening.
To reveal the musical's complete story line might endanger the theatrical tension for audiences because at the musical's intermission on opening night, several audience members were visibly moved after the first act.
The two main characters, played with abandon by Katie Strom Rozanas (Alice Murphy), and Chris Paulson (Jimmy Ray Dobbs), illuminate enough emotion through their superb chemistry and powerful voices to keep the audiences riveted to the stage. The musical reminisces the decisions these two characters made in their youth to bring them to what they are today, especially through the haunting story of Alice Murphy's life. However, BRIGHT STAR's plot equally illustrates the struggles of daughters and sons when they decide to challenge family, traditions and society's status quo.
Another character, Billy Cane (played by Cam Pederson), an aspiring writer who returns to his rural North Carolina after WWII, enters the present day 1940's to discover his mother has died while he was serving in the military. Pederson gives his character an appealing innocence that charms the audience, adding to the musical's heart and soul. Director Scott Ford's enlightening vision of how to move the more than 20 cast members on stage—when an 11-piece bluegrass band (directed by Elise Santa) sits atop a huge platform—reveals an aesthetic ease which is challenging to accomplish. While the band and platform easily draws the attention to their performance, the accomplished actors and clever choreography by Heidi Spesard-Noble, together with costumes designed by Samantha Kuhn Staneart, almost appears miraculous—a feat worthy to behold in itself. The entire cast radiates talent and warmth the entire two plus hour evening.
The stellar acting performances of Rozanas, who embodies Alice, and the exceptional vocal quality of each cast member combines with the outstanding bluegrass score and incredible technical competency, that produces a winning evening of Lyric Arts theater.
Lyric Arts commands the Martin and Brickell BRIGHT STAR production, and inspires the audience to remember events in their own lives that changed the course of their personal trajectory, altering their destiny and any dreams they held along the way—desired from the days of their teenage youth. A stark reminder that how someone chooses to live life might be transformed by what other people plan or arrange for them
Fortitude and forgiveness remain momentous events in the musical, and perhaps in the lives of those watching, to brighten personal horizons with future promise. For the adventurous up and coming theater company, this ambitious production proves to be an incandescent tribute to strong women, Southern culture and the timeless appeal of music to exemplify human frailty and resilience.
The Appalachian bluegrass score featuring more than 17 original songs, also offers hope when heartbreak strikes. With the characters' open humanity exposed on stage, in the lively score and through the Lyric Arts production, the musical exemplifies people who carry on with renewed purpose after misfortunes and tragedy. As the lyrics to one of the musical's songs believes, eventually in life, 'the sun's going to shine."
Be sure to take the opportunity to attend the marvelous BRIGHT STAR where Lyric Arts' constellation of superior acting talent, musicianship, stage direction and technical skill collide into a meteoric theater experience. While appearing to be on the outlying district of the mainstream Twin Cities theater scene, Lyric Arts' cutting edge style proves once again that ambition, authentic heart and audacious talent will soar into the heavens for audiences who travel with them.