BWW Interview: BRIGHT STAR's A.J. Shively on Reprising His Role of Billy Cane for the LA Premiere and Following Your Own Path
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's gorgeous musical, Bright Star, will be coming to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles this fall and will feature a number of original cast members. The talented and charismatic A.J. Shively will reprise his role as Billy Cane, the young soldier who returns from war and pursues his dream of being a writer at home in North Carolina. Shively's character is full of hope and optimism, as he is figuring out what's most important in life and coming full circle with the individuals who have shaped his personal story.
BroadwayWorld had the exciting opportunity to catch up with Shively about stepping back into the shoes of Billy Cane; the emotionally powerful score; and following your own bright star.
Congratulations on the LA premiere of Bright Star and reprising your role as Billy Cane! What has it been like reuniting with some of your former co-stars and diving back into this poignant story?
It's been incredible! It's so exciting to be able to live in Los Angeles for a few months. I have some family out here, so getting to see them, along with my Bright Star family, is fantastic!
You've been with Bright Star since the very beginning. After some time away from your character, can you describe your process for stepping back into the shoes of Billy Cane?
It's kind of like being in the twilight zone! You do a long run and get used to your intentions and then have the opportunity to begin a new journey. It's like putting on an old pair of shoes that you haven't tried on in a long time -- it's still molded to my foot!
It's been really nice incorporating new principals into the company and discovering new relationships. Walter Bobbie was very sure to let us make this its own production. We're not trying to recreate all of the things we did on Broadway and are letting this production breathe and be its own piece. While it's the same staging, script, and score, we're rehearsing as if it's a new production.
A new actor is playing my father. Daddy Cane is now being played by David Atkinson, so I've been raised by a different man (laughs!) That's been really exciting for me and fun, in keeping it interesting!
Bright Star takes us back to a different and more hopeful period in time. What lessons can audiences benefit from in 2017?
Just in the past month, we'd had catastrophic hurricanes and earthquakes - but the sun is going to shine again! The belief in self and fate and that you can make your life alright no matter what happens is so important for any time and any generation. If you trust and believe in yourself, things will turn out alright.
The music of the show is so unique and beautifully brings the story to life. How does the score amplify the emotion even further and take the impact to the next level?
The fact that the musicians are live on stage with the cast, sitting next to us, is hugely impactful! Standing that close to a cello or an upright bass, for example, you can feel the vibrations of the noises in your bones and it's very different than a staged musical, where the orchestra is in the pit or scattered in different parts of the building. Having musicians as part of the show cements the emotional journey in an indescribable way and makes the experience so visceral.
The score itself, the style of music, is called bluegrass, but that's not necessarily true. It's similar to an American roots sound, like Mumford & Sons - - it's own kind of Americana. Steve and Edie have found a really unique and specific voice based in North Carolina Appalachian music and these songs are more about a character beginning a song in one emotional state and ending it in another. I think the music makes the audience lean forward and listen more deeply to the lyrics.
In terms of your own life and career, what does following your own "bright star" mean to you?
I think it's about believing in yourself. The chair of the department where I went to college used to always say to the seniors graduating to never look sideways, because if you do, you'll never move forward. I think it's about following your own bright star - it's your own ideas and terms of happiness. You can get advice from others, but know what you want and what feels right. Trust your instincts and know that you can get there!
PHOTO CAPTION: L-R: Cast members Max Chernin, Maddie Shea Baldwin, Carmen Cusack and A.J. Shively in rehearsal for Center Theatre Group's production of "Bright Star" by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.
Credit: © 2017 Craig Schwartz