- OnStage Massachusetts Columnist
My theatrical week continues! Beginning last Friday with Little Mermaid Jr. (my friend’s daughter played Scuttle to sassy perfection) continuing with a stop in Providence to see A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, we’re up to the concert version of Bright Star which I livestreamed Monday night. Tuesday night found me headed to the other theater (the movie kind) for George Takei’s Allegiance. All theater all the time. Just how I like it.
Back to Bright Star. When I first heard about this show my reaction was Steve Martin (like the comedian?!) + Bluegrass = no thank you. After seeing and hearing their performance at this year’s Tony’s, I was intrigued enough to read a bit more about the show. Of course, it closed not long after the Tony’s along with any hope of seeing it. However they did release a cast album. I’ve listened to it a couple of times over the summer/fall and it’s truly wonderful. As Edie Brickell said during Q&A’s after the performance, “You can’t listen to a banjo and not smile.” I agree. And I will add that you can’t listen to this album without a smile. And some tears. The good tears.
I’ve seen concert versions of other staged musicals previously (thank you BBC Proms on YouTube) but this was very different. The dialogue was stripped to bare bones allowing the music to shine. The music in this show truly shines. If I didn’t know anything about the plot of the story I still would have understood everything from the songs alone. The only downside to that is it severely cut some characters parts. It appeared, from what I could tell, Mama Murphy, Lucy and Daryl may have had more dialogue vs. singing. From the limited stage time the latter two characters had they seemed to provide comic relief which in a show of such heavy topics would have been sorely needed. For the purposes of the concert version though, things still flowed quite nicely.
You could tell every single person on that stage loved bringing the show back for even just one night. Clearly something special was about to take place. And something special did from the opening chords to the final chorus, Bright Star isn’t just a county, blue-grass musical but one with rock and soul literally and figuratively.
“Firmer Hand/Do Right” who hasn’t thought they were the black sheep of their family at one point or another? When Alice sings about doing right by the family vs doing right by her… it’s meant to be light-hearted, sung by a teenager and yet there’s so much truth in that statement. What happens when family and your own well-being are in conflict with each other?
Carmen Cusack is a treasure. Someone get this girl another show, stat. Maybe her and Jessie Mueller together. Although I’m not sure the world can handle that much talent together. Carmen brings an incredible amount of emotion and feelings behind each song. There’s the high of young love in “What Could Be Better” to the lows of “Please Don’t Take Him” to the frantic joys of “So Familiar” I was crying before intermission. And then cried again during “At Long Last.” Carmen’s voice is so perfectly suited for these songs, this genre; her voice pulls you into each song, each moment.
Bright Star needs to make the rounds as a touring production because there’s a beautiful lesson in this show. As they say, you never know what life may bring, so there’s hope yet. At least we have the cast album to keep Bright Star shining for us.
Photo: Carmen Cusack starred in a concert performance of Bright Star at Town Hall on December 12. (© Walter McBride)