BWW Review: BRIGHT STAR at Hale Centre Theatre Creates Homespun Warmth
BRIGHT STAR on Hale Centre Theatre's Jewel Box Stage creates homespun warmth that cuts through the darkness in an emotional journey.
BRIGHT STAR (music, book, and story by Steve Martin; music, lyrics, and story by Edie Brickell) was nominated for five Tony Awards in 2016. Inspired by a true event, it tells the dual story of a young World War II veteran named Billy Cane, who attempts to convince editor Alice Murphy to publish his stories, and Alice's experiences as a young woman in love in the 1920s. The flavorful, memorable score is a unique brand of Americana that incorporates elements of folk, bluegrass, and Broadway to spin the uplifting tale.
In an unprecedented move, the original production of BRIGHT STAR, featuring the work of the original creative team and many members of the Broadway cast, including Carmen Cusack's breathtaking Tony-nominated performance, played at Pioneer Theatre Company in January 2018. It was one of the best shows in Utah theatre history (along with Hale Center Theater Orem's 110 IN THE SHADE with Audra McDonald, directed by this production's Dave Tinney), and it is a difficult thing to live up to that extremely high standard. But kudos to Hale Centre Theatre for bringing the beautiful musical back to Utah for more audiences to experience.
Equity actor Donna Louden, who is single cast as Alice (understudied by Bre Welch), was Carmen Cusack's understudy at Pioneer Theatre Company and on the 1st national tour, and she also originated the role of Elsa in FROZEN LIVE AT THE HYPERION. Her performance would be improved by a clearer delineation between the younger and older versions of her character with a more jaded outlook later in life. However, she brings a spunk and sparkle to the role, especially in Alice's younger self, that is irresistible. Her depth of feeling is expressive and moving. Most significantly, her vocals are gorgeously pristine, cutting like a dagger in the dramatic moments and expressing pluck and elation in the joyful.
Equity actor Darick Pead is single cast as Jimmy Ray Dobbs (understudied by Adam Dietlein), and he brings iron-clad vocals and simmering emotion to the role. Another standout is Ric Starnes as his father, Mayor Dobbs (double cast with Michael Hohl).
Also notable are Carter Walker as Billy Cane (double cast with Dallin Suman), Josh Richardson as Daddy Cane (double cast with Patrick Kintz), Tamari Dunbar as Mama Murphy (double cast with Julie Silvestro Waite), David Marsden as Daddy Murphy (double cast with Zac Zumbrunnen), Brianna Meikle as Margo Crawford (double cast with Morgan Western), Jeffrey Whitlock as Daryl Ames (double cast with Daniel Anderson), and Bre Welch as Lucy Grant (double cast with Camille Evans).
The direction and choreography from Dave Tinney lacks the fluidity and inventiveness of the original production, but it makes good use of the small stage with warmth and intimacy. "What Could Be Better" and "Another Round" are highlights.
The scenic design by Jenn Stapley Taylor is wonderfully homespun and adaptable as many different locations across the decades, housing the impressive live band openly but not conspicuously. The costume design by Peggy Willis shifts with the changing moods and times, always picture perfect while still feeling lived in. The lighting design by Marianne Ohran complements both with a constant warm glow and occasional sparks of color.
Be advised that if your seat is at the sides of the theatre, you will have a restricted view of the stage and will be unable to see the projections and some of the action.
If you have never had the opportunity to see BRIGHT STAR, or if you really want to see it again, this uplifting production will be your best bet.
BRIGHT STAR plays through May 2, 2020. For tickets, call the box office at 801-984-9000 or visit www.hct.org.
Photo Credit: Cast of BRIGHT STAR.