BWW Review: Hale Centre Theatre Presents BRIGHT STAR
If you're expecting wild and crazy from a play by Steve Martin, you'll be mightily surprised by BRIGHT STAR. It's all sugar and tenderness in this precious and poignant award-winning musical (five Tony nominations, the 2016 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Broadway Musical), now appearing at Hale Centre Theatre.
You'll be taken instead on a sentimental journey that traverses the lives of Alice Murphy (Heidi-Liz Johnson), the editor of a Southern literary journal, and Billy Cane (Allan DeWitt), the young writer whom she opts to mentor.
Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, it's the twang of bluegrass and the high-spirited country style lyrics of Edie Brickell that underscore this story about two people whose relationship epitomizes karma.
(In this regard, it's worth noting that the story of found relationships here is, with some parallel irony, a sight different from that which inspired the Martin/Brickell collaboration ~ that is, the true and legendary story of the Iron Mountain Baby, a five-day-old that survived a 50-feet fall from a train into the Big River at Irondale, Missouri and was adopted by the man who found him.)
The time frame of the story shifts between the 1920's and '40's with a narrative that hints of connections waiting to be revealed. In bridging the decades and tracking the trajectories of Alice and Billy's formative years, director Tim Dietlein's imaginative set design evokes the character of the respective periods and the performers tailor their demeanor to fit their ages.
Complemented by a solid ensemble, the choreography of Cambrian James, Lincoln Wright's music direction, and Tia Hawkes's period costumes, the shining performances of Ms. Johnson and Mr. DeWitt infuse the production with the emotional weight that it requires.
Ms. Johnson's portrayal of Alice is an act of sheer beauty and radiance, seamlessly shifting between two distinct periods in her life and revealing the travails that she endured as she graduated from a rebellious teen to a woman of prominence in her community. It is this journey that, in turn, brings her to encounter Billy.
For his part, Mr. DeWitt captures the optimism and ambition of the young aspiring writer who, despite experiencing the ravages of war, can rejoice in song that "I'm ready for my life to begin, I'm ready for it all to start...I must Follow my own bright star...You never know what life will bring, only what you bring to life."
If you believe that things happen for a reason, that redemption is possible, and that perhaps lives that are torn apart can be made whole again, then this BRIGHT STAR is the one to follow.
BRIGHT STAR runs through October 5th at the Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert, AZ.
Photo credit to Nick Woodward-Shaw