Review: BRIGHT STAR at Te Auaha

The production runs through 25 November.

By: Nov. 19, 2023
Review: BRIGHT STAR at Te Auaha

Reviewed by Neil Brewer

This musical is written by none other than Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and contains bluegrass music and an excellent story. The main theme is based on an actual event. Edie read a story about the Iron Mountain baby online and from this came the idea for this musical. While this may be considered a brave choice of musical for Footlights, the story and music are both outstanding. Speaking to one of the audience before the start of the show, they told me they weren’t a fan of country music. However, afterward, they said how much they had enjoyed it. The atmosphere of the audience at the end of the show supported this feeling. They were a-buzz and raving about what they had seen.

So, the message is don’t be put off, this show is worth seeing. 

 Set in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina in 1945-46 with flashbacks to 1923. It tells the story of Alice Murphy, a literary editor who meets a young soldier and hopeful writer named Billy Cane after World War II. Their connection leads Alice to revisit her past and reveal a secret that will change both of their lives.

The songs are great with a couple of 'unforgettable' ones that will remain with the audience long after seeing this show.  "Woah Mama" in the first act and "Pour me" in particular are both really catchy. There are also some beautiful ballads; there's a good mix and along with the excellent choreography makes for a winning combination.

 The audience was engaged throughout as was evident at the end of “Please don’t take him” where there was a moment of silence, not sure if they should applaud, before muted applause after a powerful and moving scene. The transitions between the two timelines were easily understood and well executed.

 The role of Alice was played by Cassandra Tse whose voice carried the night.  She acted and sang with surety.  Her love interest was played by Chris McMillan whose vocals were a standout and the two had great chemistry throughout. The other romance in the show was between the returned soldier played by Fynn Bodley-Davies and the librarian Margo Crawford played by Nadia Newman.  Both sang well and some of the moments of tension between them were well executed.

 Mention must also be made of Kirsty Huszka and Corey Moir, who both provided some comic relief with Kirsty in fine form leading "Pour Me". Mike Bryant as the Mayor also seemed to relish playing the role. A man who would do anything to protect his son.

A minimal set was used along with projection onto a back screen. This worked well for the most part but a couple of the slides for me didn’t work, most notably the train scene at the end of the first act. More could have been made to give us the feeling that we were on a train, with the cast using physicality to match the background. The use of the elevated platform above the stage for some chorus numbers was particularly effective.

 The show was well-lit, though there were a couple of times when there were scenes that were slightly too dark, on the downstage right in particular.

 The sound tech was slightly uneven in parts but didn’t detract from the excellent singing-it was more the dialogue that sometimes got lost and when the cast is speaking in a Southern accent, it did make it a bit harder to follow some scenes.

 I had listened to the soundtrack on rotation for a few weeks and knew the songs well, though not in relation to the story and seeing the show in its entirety gave me a greater appreciation for the numbers as they were written.

In conclusion, this was a great night of theatre that I am sure would appeal to most musical theatre lovers. It had a strong story, great music, a strong cast who could carry it off and an excellent set of musicians backing them up. I am impressed that they managed to find musicians who can play that genre that well. It's a highly recommend from this reviewer. This has a very short season, so make room in your diary this week and get along.


Bright Star

The Wellington Footlights Society
Te Auaha Nov 17-25
Directed by: Stanford Reynolds. Musical Director Michael Stebbings.  Choreographer Mel Heaphy