SHOWBITUARY: "Bright Star"

Alexa Juno

  • OnStage New York Columnist

In the grand tradition of shows written by famous people that didn't work out as well as anyone hoped or expected, last week, we bid adieu to Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's, "Bright Star."
"Bright Star", I am hard-pressed to find any specific reasoning for your demise other than that you simply did not catch on. Like Paul Simon's, "The Capeman", Boy George's, "Taboo", Trey Anastasio's, "Hands on a Hardbody", and most recently, Sting's, "The Last Ship", you join a long line of well-intentioned Broadway outings by superstars that just didn't translate to big box office.  

Photo: Joan Marcus

Photo: Joan Marcus

And where some of these shows were inherently problematic (lookin' at you, Capeman), you did not retain any of their flaws. You were received enthusiastically and were generally well-liked by all those who entered the Cort Theatre these past four months. The critics, though ambivalent about your very obvious plot twists and unwillingness to embrace the darker themes of your story, mostly enjoyed your upbeat bluegrass score and Carmen Cusack's versatile dual performance (and my GOD the belt on that woman could blow your barn in).
The Times named you a Critics' Pick and appreciated Steve Martin's wry influence on the book, keeping the show from being written off as down home saccharine fluff.  The Hollywood Reporter praised Walter Bobbie's fluid direction and the show's cockeyed optimist spirit. You earned five Tony nominations, including Best Musical, and one heartfelt diatribe by one, Miss Jennifer Ashley Tepper, praising your environmentally authentic sound design as a case for the intrinsic value of sound design in theatre as a whole. You were also named Best Musical at the 2016 Outer Critics' Circle awards and received the Drama Desk for Outstanding Music. 
All in all, I think you just got lost in the season and perhaps a Broadway stage was too big a venue for what should be an intimate and voyeuristic look at one woman's life. But the feel-good aspects of this show in conjunction with a good probability for low-cost productions have potential to give this show continued life in smaller settings. If you didn't have the run you hoped for on the Great White Way, I am confident that the sun is gonna shine again on regional and community stages all over the country. 
At the time of closing, "Bright Star" will have played 30 previews and 109 regular performances. 
This production is survived by: Carmen Cusack, Paul Alexander Nolan, Michael Mulheren, A.J. Shively, Hannah Elless, Stephen Bogardus, Dee Hoty, Stephen Lee Anderson, Emily Padgett, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Allison Briner-Dardenne, Max Chernin, Patrick Cummings, Sandra DeNise, Michael X. Martin, Tony Roach, Sarah Janes Shanks, William Youmans, Walter Bobbie, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, Eugene Lee, Jane Greenwood, Japhy Weideman, Nevin Steinberg, Rob Berman, August Eriksmoen, Josh Rhodes, Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Zebulon LLC, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Len Blavatnik, James L. Nederlander, Carson & Joseph Gleberman, Balboa Park Productions, in association with Rodger Hess, A.C. Orange International, Broadway Across America, Sally Jacobs & Warren Baker, Exeter Capital, Agnes Gund, True Love Productions, The Old Globe

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