PERRY — To say Heritage Theatre’s production of Bright Star was heart-wrenching would be a huge understatement. This show forms a beautiful bouquet of Kentucky bluegrass into a shining heart shaped star, smashes it into cold dark bits, then pieces together the fragile fragments back to mend the broken heart. Not as the heart was before, but a heart which is stronger for enduring the most excruciating of pains. Director Kelli Morris, the cast, and production team have my highest commendations for creating an outstanding show.
Bright Star is a musical with music by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, lyrics by Brickell, and a book by Martin. Debuting in 2013, it is filled with bluegrass music and country flair. Starting in 1946 in the city of Asheville, North Carolina, and flashing back to 23 earlier in the smaller town of Zebulon, this riveting tale shifts between two time periods in the life of Alice Murphy and is inspired by a true story. Alice’s story is a relatable tale of a carefree childhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a teenage love, a crushing heartbreak, and finding the strength to move on. It is a narrative that I will leave for her to tell the details.
Heritage Theatre has put together a very talented cast of actors, with Alexa Brian playing Alice Murphy. Brian shone as the brightest star of the night, with her amazing vocals and ability to act both as a young, radiant Alice and an older, reserved business woman. Her energetic spirit fills the stage as she flirts and dances in “Whoa, Mama.” Her strong vocals and southern accent were delightful and moving. She starts the show off with a hit in “If You Knew My Story” and tore my heart out in “Please Don’t Take Him.”
Also leading the show is the dashing Jimmy Ray Dobbs, who is played by Duke Charles Maxwell Teuscher. His carefree acting, singing, and dancing as a teenager is fun and enjoyable to watch in “Whoa, Mama.” However, the music was louder than his mic, and his diction could be clearer in the first of this song. I could not understand much of what he was singing. Teucher is a talented actor, as shown when Jimmy Ray has a breakdown in “Heartbreaker,” a song filled with so much emotion that I was crushed when it ended. Teuscher’s ability to portray the love and concern of Jimmy Ray was powerful with his line, “Is it better to hope or to know?”
An amazing standout of the production was Timothy Behunin expertly playing the role of Mayor Dobbs. Although he may look a little like Santa Claus, Behunin was terrifying. Behunin and Teuscher sing a duet in “A Man’s Gotta Do” that is so good. Behunin really gets into the soul of an evil businessman who will do anything to get ahead in the world.
Billy Cane (played by Conner Blankman) is somewhat childish and naïve as he sets out to make his way in the world and follow his dreams. His old friend Margo (played by Chersti C. Thompson) encourages him and helps him to become a better writer. Thompson’s sweet smiles as she tries to get Billy to notice her are flirtatious and timid. Her longing for him in “Asheville” is touching but also powerful, as her radiant vocal talent showed that she was not just a supporting actress, but a meaningful part of the play herself. I “‘always will” be cheering for the “propinquity” of these two lovable characters.
Thanks to some of the best comedic lines and moments delivered by Colton James Kraus as Daryl Ames, Kaylee Nelson as Lucy Grant, and David Atkinson as Max, Bright Star isn’t all serious. Kraus and Nelson are a hoot in “Another Round” creating quite a “flapdoodle” in a lively and entertaining dance number choreographed by Brianna Taylor.
Lighting designer Braden Howard effectively portrayed emotions and scene changes by shining a light up the middle of the simple yet beautiful sun ray wooden backdrop. The set was simple yet beautiful stained wood that really portrayed a country farm life feel. The rustic feel was carried to the front wings of the stage with wooden pallets reaching to the ceiling with the same beautiful stain. Although the set changes and props designed by Makayla Thornley were also simple and basic, the scenes flawlessly changed so that I could easily know whether I was at a bookstore, a country Farmhouse, the train station, or a country dance. For safety reasons, I was a little nervous that one of the chairs may break during the “Bright Star” song. While it was apparent that the chair has been reinforced under the seat, it still bends precariously as the actor steps on top of it.
The music is animated country bluegrass and is so moving. I only wish Heritage was able to figure out a way to have a live band with a fiddle; however, the live production and actors were fantastic and so dynamic. Due to some mature themes such as teenage pregnancy and the loss of a child and other dramatic moments, I would recommend this play to an older audience (high school age and older). Fabulously directed by Morris, the sincere message of this play is handled with utmost care and respect.
So “Come on, what are you waiting for?” Bright Star will only be at Heritage Theatre for a few more weeks. If you have not seen this play yet, you won’t want to miss one of the best shows to hit Northern Utah for a while. And don’t forget to bring tissues.