CENTERVILLE — Bright Star, a bluegrass musical with music by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, lyrics by Brickell, and a book by Martin, is about a young woman growing up in North Carolina, and the challenges she faces, the mystery of her past, and the connections that her story weaves throughout her life. The production at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, directed by Maurie Tarbox, is an excellent introduction to this show for people who have not seen it — and a great trip down memory lane for those who are familiar.
Because the story takes place in two time periods, both after World War II and in the late 1920s, the design elements of the show are of particular importance. Not only do they need to represent the time periods accurately, they also need to make the transitions seamless enough to keep the flow between storylines going well enough to not lose the audience in the shuffle. Set designer Truxton Milton has done a fantastic job of putting this concept to life. Milton’s set works cohesively with the ensemble and the production team to make the transitions happen as part of the visuals of the show. I enjoyed watching how versatile some of the pieces had been designed to be, serving to be a porch, a shop front, a bridge fence, and more.
Additionally, the costumes, designed by Laurie Oswald, represent a challenge in a production like this. I liked the costumes during the later time period more, but I cannot tell if that was because of a style preference on my part, or better choices and craftsmanship of costume. Alice (played by Anya Wilson) wears a suit, hat, and jacket that is impeccable and perfectly reproduces postwar America, while her younger self is in a much more simple dress. This did help to show the amount of success Alice acquires during the story. The costume changes as were a commendable visual aspect of the show because of how they helped the audience see the passage of time.
Wilson brought magic to the role of Alice. The first song, “If You Knew My Story,” had Wilson bringing an element of wonder and intrigue to the song, making me feel that she truly wanted to tell her story, and I wanted to hear it. The chemistry she had with both Jared Haddock as Jimmy Ray and Alex Young as Billy was fantastic. Both men serve different but equally important roles in the plot lines, and the way the actors were able to build these relationships up within the course of the story was a joy to witness.
Music director Tara Wardle made the vocal score a beautiful component of the evening, and both the individual cast members’ singing and the ensemble numbers were a wonderful work of art. Because the show is set in North Carolina, the bluegrass music style makes a lot of sense, but can be a challenge to harmonize well. Wardle has helped the cast enhance their musical skills and show of the wonderful writing of this show.
As I have said previously with CenterPoint shows, one thing I would love to see incorporated is live music. While the theater may not be equipped to house a full orchestra, a show like Bright Star can get by with a smaller number of musicians that could be incorporated onto the stage nicely. The level of talent in Davis County is immense, and live music brings so much more to a production. I understand the cost may be prohibitive, but live musicians would still add so much to the production value.
There are a handful of side characters within the production of Bright Star, and many actors in these roles did outstanding work in this production. Lucy and Daryl (played by Natalie Haddock and Ryan Zaugg, respectively) serve as the comic relief for much of the show, and Haddock and Zaugg were up to the task. I loved seeing them interact both with each other and the other cast members. Brent Sloan as Daddy Murphy played a character that has a difficult story arc and redemption plot, and I was impressed with Sloan’s ability to work with that plot line. Similarly, Chad Wilkinson as Daddy Cane covered some very difficult ground with his character, and I appreciated the careful way he took on this role.
Bright Star is a beautiful yet haunting story. As an avid theatre goer, I appreciate the ability it gives me to look at my beliefs and traditions and question my own thoughts and actions toward myself and others. I also love how this shows represents the ways in which people are connected and how everyone’s decisions can impact themselves and others. The CenterPoint production of Bright Star honors that story and tells it in a very compelling and respectful way.