BWW Review: The Opera House Players' BRIGHT STAR
Alice Murphy, the protagonist in the musical, BRIGHT STAR (now on stage at the Enfield Annex, produced by the Opera House Players) sings in her opening number, "If you knew my story, you'd have a good story to tell" and the musical that follows those words is just that, a good story - one with toe-tapping songs and a captivating story (both by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell) and a few surprises along the way. The production is solid, the story heartwarming, the songs entertaining, and the overall show completely worth the trip to Enfield, CT.
BRIGHT STAR tells the story of Alice Murphy (Nicole Wadleigh), an editor at the Ashville Southern Journal in North Carolina in 1945. She meets a young writer Billy Cane (Stephen Koehler) when he arrives in her office, wide-eyed and freshly home from WWII, with hopes of being published in the journal. Alice then recalls her own carefree youth in 1923 and her romance with Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Andrew Rosenstein), the mayor's son. The musical then bounces back and forth between 1945 and 1923, revealing more of Alice's story and Billy's journey. The soundtrack underneath is a bluegrass flavored score (by Martin and Brickell) which, not only firmly places the action in the south, but often punctuates it with the telltale mix of joy and sorrow that the style of music often illustrates.
As the first community theatre production of BRIGHT STAR in Connecticut, the Opera House Players' production shines. It is the perfect piece for a troupe like OHP and they do a fantastic job with it. Martin and Brickell's music is lively and memorable, and the story is captivating and entertaining. John Pike's direction is solid, and he uses the full breadth of the Enfield Annex stage to tell this tale. From an acting point of view, everyone shines, especially the leads. Ms. Wadleigh delivers a young, naive, and hopeful Alice in her early days and contrasts that with a jaded, guarded, and bitter Alice in her later years. Her voice is a good match for the bluegrass score and she handles each of her numbers very well. Playing opposite her are two very capable and talented men. As Jimmy Ray, Andrew Rosenstein, is fantastic. He conveys many different emotions through his scenes and songs and shows off a powerful voice, especially in "Heartbreaker." As Billy, the young veteran and writer, Stephen Koehler is equally strong, especially in the title song and in the later number, "Always Will". The rest of the cast does a bang up job every time they are on stage. It always pleases me so much to see such a solid ensemble such as the one in BRIGHT STAR, and that makes the evening particularly special.
From a creative perspective, Jeff Clayton's set is simple, yet functional and Jerry Zalewski's lighting design colors each scene with the right balance of light. Hannah Gundersheim's choreography is solid and effective, and Kim Aliczi does a great job as music director, leading a fantastic six-piece band that is so good, I would pay to see a concert of theirs even without the musical surrounding them. Ann-Marie Messbauer is particularly nimble on the fiddle, an instrument that truly makes the score shine.
Overall, BRIGHT STAR is a simple, yet beautiful tale told by a fantastic cast, scored by a top-notch band, and delivered with the highest quality production values. If you haven't heard of it before, don't worry, you will, as I am sure many more theatres around the country will be mounting this one soon. But the Opera House Players production has set the bar high. Don't miss your chance to see this one!