Bright Star Shines Like a Beacon Over Fort Salem Theater
Bright Star, the Tony-nominated musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell has once again found its way to shine brightly on a Capital Region stage. Currently at the Fort Salem Theater, this musical is based on a true story of a baby who was tossed from a train in a suitcase sometime in 1945-46 in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. Certainly an odd premise for a musical, but one that works beautifully.
It’s 1946 and Alice Murphy, Editor of the Asheville Southern Journal, greets the audience by explaining in the opening number, “If You Knew My Story”, that she is going to tell them her story. Courtnie Harrington takes center stage and lets the audience know exactly what they are in for. An evening of music that is a combination of country (with a twang) and bluegrass; the music is an integral part of propelling the story forward.
Billy Cane (Noah Casner) returned from the war in 1945 and, determined to become a serious writer, announces he will follow his “Bright Star”. Billy goes off to Asheville and meets Alice. She becomes something of a cynical mentor to the young wanna-be, as she sees something of a spark in him.
Through a series of flashbacks, we meet the townsfolk and families of Alice, her true love, Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Matthew Clemetson), and Billy’s family and his true love, Margo Crawford (Arianna Dreher).
Director/choreographer Dennis J. Clark has assembled a wonderfully talented cast. The few weak links are, fortunately, relegated to minor roles; they are so overshadowed by the powerhouses on the stage around them, they tend to fade into the background. Clark moves the large cast of 20 performers around the stage with ease and grace. His staging – in particular, the opening scene tableau, and the choreographed movement of chairs, benches, and blankets – brings a beautiful, almost balletic feeling to the show. The first act finale, again choreographed with movement rather than dance steps, will leave you in stunned silence.
Supporting cast members Peter Bailey (as Billy’s father), and Jared West and Maureen Cossey (as Alice’s parents), provide a solid backbone both in terms of singing and acting. Luke Miner, as the fey Daryl who works at the Journal, has a perfect sense of comedic timing and is so utterly aware of the “joke” of his character and the time in which it is staged.
Courtnie Harrington may be the lead, and she certainly plays the part with great spirit, heart, and enormous talent. But Matthew Clemetson as Jimmy Ray owns the stage, particularly when he sings. Clemetson’s character wears his heart on his sleeve much of the time, yet we can actually watch his emotions spin like a top throughout the play. His rendition of “Heartbreaker” left the audience in stunned silence as they watched the tears stream down his face. Noah Casner, as Billy, grows and matures before our eyes. He is a pleasure to watch and listen to. Emily Jenkins’ Lucy is the exact amount of measured calm, hidden heartbreak, and frustration.
The on-stage band, under the direction of Berry Ayers, does a great job fitting the country vibe of a band at a hoedown. There are several members of the cast who also slide seamlessly onto the bandstand, picking up instruments and joining the band. Rounding out this wonderful production is Charles J.I. Krawczyk’s set design. The pieces move seamlessly on and off the stage. They play multiple characters and become an integral part of the production.
“Bright Star” is certainly a shining spot in Fort Salem’s season. Regrettably, due to a cast outbreak of COVID last week, their first week of performances had to be canceled allowing only this weekend for performances. As was announced at Saturday evening’s performance, it was the first time that the cast, orchestra, sets, lighting, and sound had all been done on stage at the same time. It was quite an accomplishment, and one that should have had the opportunity to be seen by more than will be able to.
There is still a chance to see Bright Star Sunday at 2 p.m. For information go to www.fortsalem.com or call 518-854-9200.