BWW Review: MTW First Regional Look at BRIGHT STAR
Bright Star/music, book & story by Steve Martin/music, lyrics & story by Edie Brickell/direction and choreography recreated from the original by Richard Gatta/MTW (Musical Theatre West)/through November 4
Steve Martin's and Edie Brickell's Bright Star played Broadway in 2016. The show fared somewhat well, but did not seem to be an overall critics' choice. On the minus side, it is an all too familiar story about a backwoods pregnant girl and parental abuse in the 1920s, with far-fetched resolutions and a sweet, but for many, saccharine ending. In spite of this, I was delighted with the bluegrass music by Martin and Brickell...and
MTW is giving audiences a right.on.the.mark recreation by Richard Gatta of Walter Bobbie's original fluid staging and Josh Rhodes' splended choreography... and the performances, particularly that of Anna Mintzer, are deliriously wonderful. It's a most definitely uplifting and entertaining evening at MTW in Long Beach through November 4 only.
From start to finish, Alice Murphy (Anna Mintzer) is a thrill a minute to watch. With her entrance (pictured above) where she proclaims to the world "If You Knew My Story", she makes us feel we are in for something extra special.
Martin has structured the play into two storylines which eventually connect. The first takes place from 1945 to 1946 in various places of North Carolina, when Billy Cane (Taubert Nadilini) returns home from the war to find his dad alive and well (David Atkinson) but learns sadly that his mother has passed away. It's a tragic piece of news for the boy, who wants to become a writer. His is the first plotline, and Alice Murphy's the second. She is the head of a southern based publishing company and encounters Billy when he comes into the office to submit his stories for publication consideration.
Alice, as we learn through a flashback of 22 years, was brought up in a strict environment. Yet bored and stubborn, she falls for Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Devin Archer), the mayor's son. This is North Carolina in 1923 and Alice being from a poor family is hardly considered good marriage material by the Dobbs. While unmarried she ends up pregnant and gives birth to a son. Jimmy Ray's father ( Sean Smith) has the child legally taken away from her and does something despicable...Not even his son knows what he has done until much later.
There are several of these flashbacks telling Alice's story and then back to 1945 to make the connection with Billy... an obviously urgent one for Alice. We are manipulated into considering the extent of their relationship.
No one enjoys being manipulated. Yet... Steven Speilberg has done it to us many times on film. We love him, especially if his story is well told. The same may be said in this case onstage with Bright Star. We are so engrossed in the fast-paced staging and theatrix and the upbeat music, we don't have time to think; we are truly having a good time.
Within the two storylines there are terrific scenes of love between Alice and Jimmy Ray and Billy with Margo (Paige Herschell), who works in a local bookstore and takes a special interest in him and his career. The blossoming of love in both cases grips the audience, There is also fantastic humor in Alice's office with assistants Lucy (Rachelle Rose) and Daryl (Ryan Dietz) who delight us with hilarious takes on their boss and the publishing business.
Praise to this wonderful cast and to Gatta who has directed the whole piece with a skillful hand. As choreographer he puts the 18 member ensemble through some exhilarating moves. Thanks also to musical director Dennis Castellano and his wonderful live orchestra. Kudos as well to Eugene Lee for a scenic design that puts the orchestra in a mobile bandstand that serves as the core and to Jane Greenwood for pretty period costuming. MTW has these orginal sets and costumes from the Broadway production.
The entire ensemble make the piece worth watching, but Mintzer is a true find. With a singing voice similar to the style and strength of Patsy Cline, she blows the roof off every song. She's a triple threat really bringing out Alice's heartache and sense of humor.
Don't miss Bright Star at MTW for a mere two weeks more! There is entertainment to spare. You will laugh and cry.
(photo credit: Caught in the Moment Photography)