BWW Review: Stirring BRIGHT STAR Shines at Arvada Center
If there's one thing you can expect at the heart of a bluegrass musical, it's a great story -- and that's only one of the many ways the Arvada Center's latest musical shines.
Bright Star, making its regional premiere at the Center's mainstage, features a collective book, music and lyrics from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. Its events are based around the true folktale of the Iron Mountain Baby. The musical's 2016 Broadway run was short-lived.
Set in North Carolina, the story told is mainly of Alice Murphy (Merideth Kaye Clark), an editor with a difficult past. When young war vet and writer Billy Cane (Jake Mendes) submits his stories to her publication, she sees something in him, and their lives intersect. While the plot takes a few predictable turns, it's at its best when told through the music, and feels like a classic heartwarming folktale. At points, it might seem too melodramatic, but that's not necessarily a negative.
The brightest performance is prominently Clark as Alice Murphy, taking the role back and forth from a vibrant teenager to a mature woman. Her portrayal is passionate. She doesn't hold back, and it pays off. Mendes's Billy is spirited, and he keeps him very down to earth. Other standouts include Dieter Bierbrauer as Alice's love interest Jimmy Ray and a charming Steph Holmbo as Billy's hometown beau Margo. The ensemble featured throughout is full of amusing quips that are truly a highlight to the show, even when they're not the main action.
Directed by Rod A. Lansberry, the production feels intimate and lush. The six-piece orchestra is right on stage during the numbers, alongside much of the ensemble, who watch the action like an audience, knee-slapping along with the music. Choreography by Kitty Skillman-Hilsabeck is woven seamlessly throughout, down to the scenic transitions. It's showcased best during the drinking song "Another Round."
While I was unfamiliar with Bright Star prior to seeing it, I left humming several of the songs, which is uncommon for me seeing new works. I expected it to be good, but I didn't realize all the ways it would stick with me. Bright Star could stand alone with a great score, but Arvada Center's production makes it dazzle on every level.
Bright Star plays the Arvada Center's mainstage through Sept 29. Tickets available at ArvadaCenter.org.
Photos by Matthew Gale