By Lydia Baxter
We’ve all had musicals and movies that we grew up with, featuring songs or scenes we just can’t knock from our memories. For me, it was Guys and Dolls and West Side Story. For comedian Steve Martin, it was The Music Man and Oklahoma. For American singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, it was The Sound of Music.
What is it about these musicals that cause them to leave indelible impressions on our memories? For one thing, each show has multiple songs that are fun and easy to sing along with.
“When we started writing Bright Star, we realized that one of the things we love about the musicals we grew up with was strong melody,” shared Steve Martin of his collaboration with Edie Brickell. “We found that melody reaches out into the audience and allows you to say complicated things.”
And Bright Star definitely delves into some complicated topics.
It’s the 1940s and World War II has ended, bringing young soldier Billy Cane back to his small hometown in North Carolina. An ambitious young writer who wants nothing more than to be a published author, Billy heads off to Asheville to submit his stories to the esteemed Asheville Southern Journal. There he meets Alice Murphy, the journal’s brilliant editor. When the two meet, Alice feels an unusual connection to Billy, and starts to reflect upon her past. What she discovers has the power to transform both of their lives.
We join Alice on her trip into the past, watching her grow from a precocious—yet rebellious—teenager in the 1920s into an independent—yet emotionally burdened—grown woman in the ‘40s. Bright Star moves between eras frequently, revealing the sacrifices that Alice has made and how they have shaped her future.
“The musical is a bit of a mystery and it keeps you interested in what’s happened to this woman,” said Bright Star Co-Creator Brickell. “You get a sense that something is going on with her psychologically and emotionally, and you want to know what it is.”
“Alice Murphy is a multi-dimensional character who is full of flaws, but also has strength and talent,” shared Meredith Jones, who is playing Alice in FST’s production of Bright Star. “She overcomes considerable adversity in her past and goes on to be incredibly successful and strong. She is 100% human, which makes her someone that most people can relate to. It is easy for the audience to instantly connect with her and have a stake in wanting to see her story play out on stage.”
And one key element of Alice’s story, which also lies at the heart of our most treasured musicals, is love.
When Alice is still in high school, she and Jimmy Ray, the mayor’s son, fall in love. Mayor Dobbs doesn’t want the two to be together because Alice’s family isn’t wealthy enough for his taste. When Alice gets pregnant with Jimmy Ray’s child, Mayor Dobbs takes desperate measures to split them up for good. Alice experiences unimaginable heartbreak, but through it all, she remains optimistic, singing songs like “The Sun is Gonna Shine Again.”
This ceaseless optimism and sense of hope isn’t just felt by Alice—it is sewn throughout Bright Star.
“We were always aiming toward a sincere, non-cynical, non-ironic show,” shared Martin in an interview.
“Those were the types of musicals that touched me when I was a kid,” added Brickell. “So I tried to pay attention to what I love and create it.”
Bright Star, like so many other cherished Broadway musicals, is a heartfelt piece of theater that will intrigue, entertain, and inspire you.
Bright Star plays in FST’s Gompertz Theatre through January 3 and is part of a four-show subscription package. Also included in the Mainstage subscription package is the cross-cultural romantic comedy Handle With Care, the gripping new play American Son, and The Legend of Georgia McBride, a musical comedy written by the Obie Award-winning playwright Matthew Lopez.