Review: Bright Star, US Tour

A.J. Shively, Carmen Cusack, and Patrick Cummings
RATING: ★★★★★

While I was home in April, I was lucky enough to catch Bright Star on tour with my mom, sister, aunt, and uncle. It was my aunt and uncle who told me about the bluegrass musical a couple of years ago before I spent the summer in New York. I saw the show on Broadway and fell absolutely in love with it and then shared that love with my family (the cast album CD is always in my mom's car now), so it was great for us to be able to treat them to actually see the show.

The show is set in North Carolina from the 1920s to 1940s, so it was really special to get to see it in my home state. (You could tell the audience loved hearing town names that they knew.) The show follows two separate but connected storylines. The first is about young headstrong Alice Murphy and her beau Jimmy Ray, the son of the mayor of the rural town they live in. The second follows an aspiring writer recently returned from World War II named Billy, the girl who loves him, and his editor...Alice Murphy.

It's a charming story that will pull at your heartstrings and might even make you cry. Written by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) and Edie Brickell, it uses bluegrass music to evoke the North Carolina of the last century. The tour shares the same creative team, including director Walter Bobbie, as the show's original Broadway run in 2016.

A. J. Shively and Carmen Cusack 
Having seen the original Broadway cast and fallen in love with every member of it, I was a little bit nervous about seeing the tour cast. However, for the most part, they absolutely are as brilliant as the original cast and make the roles all their own. Audrey Cardwell plays Alice Murphy and she has a gorgeous, strong voice, even if it's not quite as bluegrass twangy as original Alice, Carmen Cusack. Her acting is similarly strong and I was particularly impressed by how she manages to differentiate her character's young and older versions. She brings a vulnerability to the role that I found compelling and her songs like "If You Knew My Story" and "Way Back in the Day" are definite highlights.

Patrick Cummings is wonderful as the charismatic Jimmy Ray. His two solos, "Whoa Mama" and "Heartbreaker" are my two favorite songs in the show, though they sit at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, and he absolutely does justice to both. While Henry Gottfried has a great voice as Billy Cane, I felt that his acting occasionally is a bit lacking. In a few scenes, Billy ends up feeling goofy rather than charming.

My favorite performance is definitely Liana Hunt as Margo, Billy's childhood friend. I saw Hunt as Katherine in Newsies a few years ago and was excited to see her in another role. Her big solo, "Asheville", is one of the most tender, lovely moments of the show. She makes me wish that Margo had more scenes!

Carmen Cusack 
Alison Briner-Dardenne (who also played the role in the original Broadway cast) and John Leslie Wolfe are very lovely as Alice's parents. Jeff Austin makes the small role of Mayor Josiah Dobbs, Jimmy Ray's father, actually a bit terrifying. I definitely recognized something in him that I see in many politicians in my country currently, unfortunately.

One of the best parts of the show are the staff at Alice's magazine's office, Daryl and Lucy (played by Kaitlyn Davidson). I remember adoring Jeff Blumenkrantz's hilarious performance as Daryl when I saw the show on Broadway, so I couldn't be more thrilled that he's a part of the tour cast. The pair provide the comic relief, which is much needed are certain points.

The show features beautiful choreography by Josh Rhodes, in particular the swing dance parts and the entire scene around the song "Asheville". The scenic design by Eugene Lee is similarly stunning, with the bluegrass band being located in a small cabin that's moved around the stage and sometimes used by the characters are well. I also love the small train that occasionally goes across a rail at the top of the stage. The costumes by Jane Greenwood are just wonderful; I wish I could wear every single one of Margo's dresses. 

A. J. Shively, Kaitlyn Davidson, and Jeff Blumenkrantz 

While the show was missing a bit of the magic of the original Broadway production, it's still a wonderful heartwarming show and definitely a tour worth seeing. As a North Carolinian, it is so special to see such a beautiful story set in my own state and based on the true story of the Iron Mountain Baby (look it up, but beware that it contains spoilers for the show). If you can't make it to the tour, I recommend checking out the album on iTunes. I personally would love to see the show come to the West End one day...I've already got a dream cast all worked out.

If you live in Texas or North Carolina, you've still got a chance to see the show on its last two tour stops later this summer. 

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz of the original LA tour cast 

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