Bright Star Shines Brightly at Cohoes Music Hall
Bright Star, by Steve Martin, (yes, that Steve Martin) he wrote the book, and together with musician Edie Brickell who wrote the lyrics, they wrote the music, is based on a true story that takes place in North Carolina in the 1940s with flashbacks to the 1920s. The musical is a cross-section of darkness and light, bluegrass and country music. Billy (Daniel Jameson ) has just returned from the war and anxiously sets out to begin, in earnest, his career as a writer. Alice (Molly Rose McGrath) the editor of a prestigious literary magazine recognizes something in him and his ability. There’s a whole lot more baggage to unpack in this story, baggage best left until you have the opportunity to see the production in person. Though I will say, the Act 1 finale is one of the most terrifying breath grabbing I have ever seen on a stage, particularly in a musical.
Kudos to Playhouse Stage for tackling another thought-provoking story that is a far cry from the so often produced traditional musical comedies. Dark and light seems to be something of a theme with the productions being chosen throughout the area lately, perhaps a sign of our times.
For this show, the company has dug deep into the Capital Region bank of talent, opting to use all local talent on stage and behind the scenes. That in of itself is reason enough to support this group.
The fact that the production under the very capable hands of veteran Playhouse director, Michael LoPorto, he leads his cast of 15 smoothly through the highs and lows of the story with grace and ease. There are a few glitches along the way, some dropped lines a few pitchy notes, and missed musical cues that will most probably work themselves out once the back to the stage jitters have calmed themselves down.
Brian Axford’s musical direction takes his on-stage band of 8 effortlessly through the bluegrass music that will have you clapping tapping your feet and bringing emotions to the surface in some of the more haunting laments. The cast is led by Molly Rose McGrath who brings a beautiful voice to the stage again and seems to have matured her acting abilities to match the level of her singing. Daniel Jameson has grown too from days on Park Playhouse student stage to full-blown male lead. The cast is well supported by Matthew Dembling as Jimmy Ray, Alice’s love interest, and Aaron Holbritter and Shawn Morgan the two fathers determined to divide the lovers, Marc Christopher, Brandon Jones, Theresa Broadwell (doubling as violin and making her acting debut) .
Samuel Reilly’s simple barn designed set, has the cast moving chairs and tables to create various sets works well. Here again, the movement by the cast needs to get smoothed out as the production gets settled in and the cast gets more comfortable in their surroundings.
Whether it’s McGrath’s wonderful soaring full-voiced singing or her more lamenting quieter moments, she has made this production their Bright Star. The foot-stomping toe-tapping full cast numbers will reach out and engulf you like a cozy blanket on a cold winter night. Even the lack of heat, due to a malfunctioning boiler couldn’t stop the warmth of the stage from heating you up Friday evening.
Bright Star is a must see, if for no other reason, and there are many other reasons, then to support the resurgence of the arts in the Capital Region. Again, no less thanks should be accorded Producing Artistic Director Owen Smith and the board of Playhouse Stage for putting together this wonderful group of local talent and getting the arts back where they belong… on the Capital Region Stage.
Bright Star perform through Feb.13 at Cohoes Music Hall, Remsen St. Cohoes. For more information: 518-434-0776 or www.parkplayhousestge.org.
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