BWW INTERVIEW: The Stars of BRIGHT STAR, Opening This Weekend at the CHARLESTON LIGHT OPERA GUILD THEATRE
"To me, Bright Star is a story about hope," explained Scott Jarrell. "The audience is going to feel a wide range of emotions when they see this production, but above all, the feeling of hope is the driving factor. Hope is a strong emotion that can carry us through any situation - and that feeling is largely on display from the time the curtain opens to the second it closes."
Jarrell plays Jimmy Ray Dobbs in Charleston Light Opera Guild's (CLOG) upcoming production of Bright Star, an Appalachian based musical written by Academy Award winning actor Steve Martin and Grammy Award winning songwriter Edie Brickell.
"(Jimmy) is an energetic young man who wants to live his own life, not the life his father has planned for him. You see from the very beginning just how volatile the relationship between Jimmy Ray and his father is," explained Jarrell.
Jimmy Ray's freewheelin' lifestyle draws the attention of Alice Murphy (Sara Golden) and the two find their selves hopelessly in love; thus creating the central storyline of Bright Star.
"Alice is a strong woman," explained Golden, who many may have seen as Ariel in CLOG's production of The Little Mermaid last year. "Her story is one of love and loss, betrayal, heartache, and really making it against all odds."
"(Bright Star) tells (Alice's) story as a teenage girl growing up in the 1920s and also goes forward in time to the 1940s when she is a successful magazine editor in Asheville," explained Golden. "Teenage Alice has a baby with the mayor's son - which is taboo during that time - and this becomes the central storyline of the show."
Like Jarrell, Golden believes the story is ultimately about hope. "One of the integral messages of this show is that life is truly what you make of it. There's a line in one of my favorite numbers that says 'I had a vision of how our life would be...' and it goes on to describe the beautiful life that Jimmy Ray and Alice thought they would have together, in contrast to the 'vale of darkness' that becomes their reality. That song really resonates with me because I think it speaks to that unspoken truth of adulthood - that life seldom turns out the way we envisioned it would. But it can still be beautiful."
Golden has enjoyed her time learning how to portray the nuances of Alice. "Alice has been such a fun character to get to know and play. Her experiences shape her into the woman she becomes - a woman who speaks her mind and isn't afraid to do what she wants or needs to do in life."
Jimmy's affluent yet intimidating father, Mayor Dobbs, serves as the story's central antagonist and is played with great intensity by Eric Hudnall, who has relished the chance to play the enemy.
"The mayor is the villain in this production," explained Hudnall. "Without him, this would be just another run-of-the-mill show. This may come off as crazy, but it is refreshing to play the villain. I am at the point in my life where I am typically cast into the older, father-figure type roles, and I'm ok with that."
You may have seen Hudnall play the father figure in quite a few shows, including Maurice in Beauty and the Beast, The Old Man in A Christmas Story, The Musical, and most recently Bill, in CLOG's production of Mamma Mia.
"This role is vastly different from any other role I have portrayed and has allowed me to have quite a bit of license in developing the character," said Hudnall. "If the audience doesn't boo the Mayor during the curtain call, I will think I haven't done it right."
Bright Star is a love story to Appalachia; a love letter to folk music and a simpler time. Golden, Jarrell, and Hudnall told me their thoughts on Bright Star's score and its difference from other Broadway productions.
"The music is only one component that sets this show apart from the typical production," said Hudnall. "The storyline, combined with the score, make for a hauntingly beautiful show."
Golden agreed, stating that, "the instrumentation for this show is beautiful and unique; the way the piano, banjo, and violin interact with each other provides a rich, haunting sound. Instruments - even voices and stage props - are used in non-traditional ways to create unique sounds, such as mimicking the sound of a train rolling through the hills. I love that it can appeal to nearly everyone; lovers of classical musical theatre, as well as lovers of Appalachian/bluegrass style music."
Jarrell, who also serves as CLOG's President, took a moment to explain why CLOG chose to produce Bright Star, "The Light Opera Guild tends to choose productions for FestivALL that are somewhat different from their normal style. This Appalachian-style musical fits in so well with the history of the area. The musical score, the costumes, the dancing - all of it really highlights the feel of Appalachia in the 20s and 40s. I personally love doing these types of shows because it gives the audience something new and fresh to enjoy. The classic Broadway productions are always a huge hit and there is obviously nothing wrong with them at all, but this type of production shows another side to musical theater that can also be enjoyed by those same audiences."
While CLOG normally performs in large venues, including The Clay Center and Charleston Coliseum Little Theater, they've decided to perform Bright Star on their home stage; an intimate venue where the performers can see their audience and where the audience can allow their selves to become engrossed in the show without the distractions and flashiness that comes along with the bigger venues.
"It's really special that we get to perform this show on the same stage that we rehearse," said Golden. "We have infused this space with so much of our time, work, and energy - I think it's incredible to get to share all of that with an audience in such an intimate, personal setting."
"This is my second opportunity to perform on the actual Light Opera Guild stage," explained Jarrell. "There are so many moving pieces in this production that the intimacy of the theatre will really help the audience see everything going on in each scene. The orchestra is actually on the stage with the cast throughout the entire production, so that adds another cool element to the staging and feel of the show. This is definitely a show that simply fits in this type of space - and I think we pull that off rather well."
"From a performer's standpoint, you can see the eyes of 90% of the audience which allows you to connect in a way that can't be accomplished elsewhere," explained Hudnall. "There's not a bad seat in the theatre. For an audience member it's a fantastic way to see a Broadway-quality production in an intimate setting."
As for their favorite musical numbers and scenes? Hudnall, Jarrell, and Golden had a lot to say:
"The mayor has three songs, but my favorite is not any of those, it's What Could Be Better," explained Hudnall. "It's the song where Alice and Jimmy Ray finally profess their love for each other. The harmonies are just exquisite."
As for Jarrell, it was a bit harder for him to choose a favorite. "It's pretty cliché to respond with 'it's so hard to choose because everything is so great' - but it's actually true! For me, the Whoa Mama scene is fun because it includes an upbeat song, there's dancing, and it's when you start to see the spark igniting between Jimmy Ray and Alice. "
"However, my favorite production number would have to be At Long Last, at the end of the show. When you have twenty cast members standing up on stage, backing up Alice with beautiful harmonies - it doesn't get much better for me," said Jarrell. "That song is what this show is all about."
Instead of the ending, golden's favorite part occurs at the start. "I love the opening number of the show, If You Knew My Story. Alice gets to sort of set the stage with her story of strength and resilience, and the audience gets to meet the entire cast and see a glimpse of each cast member's individual story."
"Another favorite scene is one that Alice shares with her father, Daddy Murphy (Mark Felton), in which she really gets to see her dad as a person for the first time," said Golden. "The scene is very raw and genuine, and I think people will be able to relate to that moment when they first began to see their own parents not just as their parents, but as actually people who are simply doing the best they can in life."
In closing, the actors had a few words for potential audiences.
"There is a load of talent on this stage, from the main performers, into the ensemble, and all the way through to the onstage rock star - I mean, bluegrass star - band. It is a top-notch production, and people are going to be talking about it for a long time," said Hudnall.
"Audiences can expect to come see a super talented cast of local individuals just have fun on stage," said Jarrell. "The show is energetic - it's emotional - but its real life. I am so proud of this production and can't wait to show it off during FestiALL."
"This show is truly an experience," said Golden. "People will laugh, people will cry, people will leave the show having had a very moving and touching experience. I feel like our society is really in need of a community and more moments where we get to feel and connect, and this show will provide just that."
Bright Star will run from Friday, June 14th through Sunday, June 30th with 8:00 PM showtimes on June 14th, 15th, 21st, 22nd, 28th, and 29th, 2019 and 3:00 PM showtimes on June 16th and 30th, 2019. You can purchase tickets online at: https://www.charlestonlightoperaguild.org/home/buy-tickets
The Charleston Light Opera Guild is located at 411 Tennessee Avenue, Charleston, WV 25302. For more information you can visit: https://www.charlestonlightoperaguild.org/
All photos courtesy of Brian Marrs: www.brianmarrs.com/