Carmen Cusack is Broadway’s newest bright new star after being cast as Alice Murphy after submitting an audition tape via video to the team behind BRIGHT STAR – an original and tuneful bluegrass country styled musical inspired by a true event by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell that is beautifully and imaginatively directed by Walter Bobbie.
Carmen Cusack is a wonder. Beautiful voice. Great actress. Getting to play the young “black sheep” and “lost lamb” albeit smart and strong Alice of the Murphy clan in North Carolina circa 1923 and her older self-contained self, working as an editor in a publishing house circa 1945.
These two plot lines run parallel – 1945-46 and 22 years earlier. Not 1923-24 but 22 years earlier. A very important number that connects the two time periods and gives us a clue early on where this romantic and tragic love story is headed.
There is another new star on the rise. A. J. Shively. He is wonderful as 22 year old Billy Cane arriving fresh from WW II back home only to discover that his mom has passed. His love is writing. Margot (a delightful Hannah Elless) works at the local library. Her love is Billy. Only she never quite gets to let him in on it.
Seamlessly going back and forth between the past and the present the sometimes hokey (but lovable) story has yet another star turn by actor Paul Alexander Nolan as Jimmy Ray Dobbs whom Alice sets her eyes and heart on. His wealthy dad (Stephen Lee Anderson) does what “A Man’s Gotta Do” and attempts to split them up until Mother Nature intervenes and Alice’s story takes a tragic twist.
BRIGHT STAR is about love and hope. For always being optimistic and for following your dreams no matter what. The score is sprightly and melodic and performed with great gusto by the onstage band housed within a shell of a gazebo that rotates and slides around on the stage to keep the momentum from never slowing down.
The skeleton-like set by Eugene Lee looks as if a tornado has set in – with props and set pieces in plain sight – like an open book – just like Alice Murphy’s life as told to us by the sensational Carmen Cusack. Happiness, turmoil and tragedy told in a refreshing way. We never doubt the outcome and when it comes we are all rewarded.
There is nothing wrong with romanticism or sentimentality. It’s what makes us human. Perhaps we have become too cynical to accept a simple old fashioned love story told through lovely songs sung with a twang. Banjos included. With a side of laughs.
Lighting design by Japhy Weideman helps immensely. Every word is heard (thank you Nevin Steinberg.) Stylish period costumes by Jane Greenwood make us long for the days when women looked like women and were sexy in a more simple way.
Choreography by Josh Rhodes makes you want to join in and enjoy life as those on stage are experiencing and enjoying their lives.
Each song tells its own story and propels the plot forward. And some are standouts. BRIGHT STAR excels in proving that what is old is new again and that contrary to Thomas Wolfe that you can go home again. Highly recommended. At the CORT THEATRE.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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