Play Review: “Bright Star” at The Old Globe Theatre

The world premiere of Steve Martin and Edie Brickells Bright Star brings vivacity to the Old Globe. Photo used with permission from Joan Marcus via The Old Globe.
The world premiere of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s “Bright Star” brings vivacity to the Old Globe. Photo used with permission from Joan Marcus via The Old Globe.

Comedian Steve Martin and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell weave together a gripping American tale of the tenacious bonds of family and childhood love at the Old Globe Theatre.

The world premiere of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's "Bright Star" brings vivacity to the Old Globe. Photo used with permission from Joan Marcus via The Old Globe.
The world premiere of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s “Bright Star” brings vivacity to the Old Globe. Photo used with permission from Joan Marcus via The Old Globe.

Rating: 4.0/5.0 stars
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Starring Carmen Cusack, A.J. Shively, Wayne Alan Wilcox, Hannah Elless
Runs Sept. 28 to Nov. 2
Location: The Old Globe Theatre

The average person is familiar with Steve Martin’s comedic acting in hit movies like “Cheaper by the Dozen,” but not many know that he also holds brilliant skill as a writer and a country musician. This fall, Martin is wielding both those talents alongside alternative-rock singer-songwriter Edie Brickell to bring an exhilarating new musical to the Old Globe stage. “Bright Star,” an early 20th-century period piece, paints a warm, nostalgic picture of the South all while admonishing its misguided faith in strict, traditional values over human compassion and creativity. To complete the classic Southern picture, every moment of this intriguing story is set to the tune of genuine American bluegrass.

It may seem like an unlikely playwriting duo, but Martin’s intricate story-telling and Brickell’s poignant music go hand-in-hand to present a well-rounded musical that easily entertains the audience with its sophisticated characters, moving plot and amusing comedy. The story seamlessly bounces back and forth between 1923 and 1945 as it tumbles through the unsightly past of literary magazine editor Alice Murphy (Carmen Cusack) and connects her to Billy Cane (A.J. Shively), a bright, young veteran who bursts into her office with his heart set on writing for her magazine. Without leaving any damaging clues along the way, Martin and Brickell successfully build up to a shocking twist that is well worth the wait.

Carmen Cusack shines as the lead, Alice Murphy. Photo used with permission from Joan Marcus via The Old Globe.
Carmen Cusack shines as the lead, Alice Murphy. Photo used with permission from Joan Marcus via The Old Globe.

Cusack masterfully propels her performance through Alice’s tragic story with convincing, full-bodied expressions of pain that command emotion from her viewers. Out of all the cast members, her Southern accent is the most genuine and impeccable, both in dialogue and in song, giving her vocals a warm and rich quality that is pleasantly reminiscent of the Dixie Chicks. Her impressive vocals grace many songs, but the most noteworthy numbers are those in which Cusack is accompanied by other characters and an ensemble to create vibrant harmonies that melt the ear like butter to cornbread.

Other remarkable characters outside of the leading quartet include the show’s comic relief Daryl Ames (Jeff Hiller) and the main antagonist Mayor Dobbs (Wayne Duvall), who respectively invoke undeniable laughter and bitter distress with their engaging stage presence. Hiller successfully transports the “sassy gay friend” stereotype back 70 years and delivers an equally comical act of relentless tongue-in-cheek wit. Duvall is also astounding for his commitment to his cold disregard toward those he deems obstacles for his ambition, even in moments that require him to scream out in sheer insanity.

A.J. Shively and Carmen Cusack star in the latest bluegrass-infused musical. Photo used with permission from Joan Marcus via The Old Globe.
A.J. Shively and Carmen Cusack star in the latest bluegrass-infused musical. Photo used with permission from Joan Marcus via The Old Globe.

When challenged with representing an authentic folk genre like bluegrass, musical director Rob Berman does not allow his band to fall short: Banjo, guitar, bass, violin and cello are only a few of the sounds that bring a necessary pop to the orchestra. Not only are the musicians expected to perform on stage while dressed as extra country folk, but they even interact with other members of the ensemble. A most notable moment was an endearing bit of flirting between a Southern maiden and the banjo player while he plucked away at his instrument.

Set designer Eugene Lee works magic to accomplish less with more, all starting with a toy train that chugs across a track at the very top of the stage to mark the opening scene of Billy’s journey. Much of the background is comprised of the theater’s actual backstage walls, which Lee fashions into appearing as the front of a house with actors walking through the backstage door as though it were the front door.

While the quality and composition of the songs performed is spectacular, the limited range of music style presented could be a setback to some audience members. Within the realm of bluegrass, “Bright Star” presents a medley of high energy songs that effectively pull at the heartstrings with every pluck of the banjo, but in the end, it’s still bluegrass; if that’s not a preferred genre for the listener, then it’s difficult to fully appreciate the experience.

“Bright Star” celebrates those who have chosen to follow their heart, even when it leads them down an unconventional path. The Old Globe’s performance is worth a trip down to Balboa Park, especially for anyone who holds an affinity for country music or would like to try something unconventional as well.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$0
$2500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$0
$2500
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The UCSD Guardian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *