Friday's Opening Night performance of “Bright Star,” by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and directed by Christine Winkler Johnson, was delightful, a romantic and sentimental story based on an event that occurred in the early 1900s. This production reminds us that good can come from terrible situations.
Music, under the direction of Isabella Wurm, was a blend of folksy bluegrass and ballads that highlighted well the setting and era of the story. The company’s voices were fantastic. Some songs were simple and at times a little repetitious, but they strongly conveyed a straightforward message. The layered harmonies and emotional narratives pulled at the audience’s empathetic heart strings. The band, with its Blue Ridge Mountain feel, was not something one usually hears in a musical.
A simple plot of young lovers, choices made, and interference from family members paints a grave portrait of disappointment. The characters initially were self-explanatory. The audience gets a quick snapshot of each personality. But as the play unfolds, so does the darkness. Mayor Josiah Dobbs, played by Zachary Stofer, is the cruel, harsh, and disapproving father that does the unspeakable. His character was one the audience loved to hate. Daddy Murphy, played by Kyle Picha, lets his frustration and fear cloud his parental judgment while the others do their 'best' to offer advice. But ultimately the damage was done.
The rebellious teen, played by Christina Stroup, had an incredible and powerful voice. Her transitions from portraying the adult Alice Murphy to the teenage Alice Murphy were seamless. With no more than removing her shoes and letting down her hair, 20 years passed over the audience’s eyes in seconds. Blake Reistad, the small-town heartthrob, did an impressive job letting the audience get to know his soft and honest character. Together Stroup and Reistad had good chemistry. Promising young writer Billy Cane, played by Sam Hildestad, returned home to find his own loss. Hildestad’s capacity to be Billy was quite convincing. His sweet, unassuming character made me wonder if he was like that off-stage as well.
Scenic designer Evan Kelly’s use of space and dimension was perfect for the small venue. Every usable area of the stage and floor space was occupied at some point, bringing a nice visual variety. (Look for the “R.”)
Costume designer Laura Piotrowski used a sweet blend of color and patterns that fit the characters well. And Alex Loch’s choreography was pleasing to watch and well-executed by the dancers.
“Bright Star” explores many facets of everyday life and everyday relationships. Heartache, loss, forgiveness, and redemption sum up this fantastic musical. Add it to your must-see list and bring a friend.
Kelly Sue Coyle reviews dance and theater performances for the News Tribune.
If you go
What: "Bright Star"
Where: Renegade Theatre Co. at Zeitgeist, 222 E. Superior St.
When: Jan. 24-26, 30-31, Feb. 1-2, 6-8. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.