BWW Review: BRIGHT STAR at Winspear Opera House
Scrolling through the nearly 900 musical theatre albums in my iTunes library, it's easy to confirm that Broadway seldom features banjo-led scores, although rare exceptions on and off-Broadway might include MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, ALWAYS PATSY CLINE, THE SPITFIRE GRILL and THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM. And although Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's 2016 sleeper-hit musical BRIGHT STAR hardly lasted more than 100 performances, the charming musical lives on, sweeping audiences off their feet through its first national tour, currently onstage at Winspear Opera House.The musical, which takes place in 1946 with frequent flashbacks to the early 1920's, begins when Alice Murphy, an editor for The Asheville Southern Journal meets aspiring young writer Billy Cane, who has just returned home from World War II. Billy charms the hardened editor, who sees his potential and decides to reluctantly mentor him to success. Her past, however, holds a dark secret: an unimaginable loss that has haunted her through her entire adult life. But just before losing all hope, a light appears that might just change her outlook on life. Although Martin and Brickell's script and score may take a leisurely pace at the beginning, and despite the major plot points being relatively predictable, Walter Bobby's skillful direction and Josh Rhodes mesmerizing choreography quickly enthrall the audience with their subtle but sensational energy. And with P. Jason Yarcho's guidance of both the cast's vocals and the band's incredible onstage performances, the show is in great shape. One major setback, however, is Eugene Lee's barely audible sound design, which forced the opening night audience to work overtime to hear the muted, but otherwise well-balanced audio.
Standout performances are made by the majority of the leading players, notably Jeff Blumenkranz (Daryl), Kaitlyn Davidson (Lucy), David Atkinson (Daddy Cane), John Leslie Wolfe and Allison Briner-Dardenne (Daddy and Mama Murphy, respectively). But the bright(est) star-turning performance onstage is made by young Audrey Cardwell, who not only sings up a storm, but fleshes out layered and convincing performances of Alice Murphy from ages 16 to 39. Cardwell's vocals conjure up images of a sweet, southern mother singing a lullaby or a rousing religious revival, depending on the songs which include "If You Knew My Story," "Way Back in the Day," and "So Familiar."
One major obstacle in helping BRIGHT STAR find an audience is the inability to share too much of the story without completely ruining the experience. But trust that, while you might not walk out of the theatre humming an upbeat, melodic new score, there's enough southern charm on that stage to make everyone feel at home with this show.
BRIGHT STAR plays AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House through Sunday, June 24th. Tickets and more information can be found at www.attpac.org.