Launching BoHo Theatre’s fifteenth season, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s BRIGHT STAR is an earnest and charming show that wears its heart proudly on its musical sleeve. Martin and Brickell have composed a rousing and heartfelt bluegrass-tinged score, which BoHo’s band beautifully and spiritedly delivers. This North Carolina-set musical centers on Alice Murphy and her unusual life story, toggling back-and-forth between 1923 and 1946 as it relays this narrative. While Alice’s backstory and her star-crossed love with Jimmy Ray form the heart of BRIGHT STAR, the show weaves this together with a secondary story of the young, idealistic writer, Billy and his childhood friend and love interest, Margo. Alice and Billy’s stories intersect in a surprising way.
BRIGHT STAR cleverly uses many ensemble numbers to tie together these two characters’ stories to bring greater cohesion to the whole. The musical begins with the spirited ensemble number “If You Knew My Story.” Of course, Alice is the narrator for the number, but BoHo’s entire ensemble comes together to lend the song its full impact. All the ensemble members bring energy and sincerity to their roles, which lends BRIGHT STAR the authentic charm it needs. While Martin’s book is full of funny quips and many instances of witty wordplay, BRIGHT STAR doesn’t ever shy away from earnestness. For the production to be a success, the actors need to own this earnestness—and that they do.
As Billy, Jeff Pierpont embodies his character’s wide-eyed idealism and determined optimism. He also deftly delivers director-choreographer Ericka Mac’s moves with dexterity and expertise. As Margo, Kiersten Frumkin makes an excellent counterpart to Pierpont. Frumkin especially shines in her solo number “Asheville,” in which she envisions what her life might be like with Billy. Josiah Robinson does excellent work as Alice’s love interest, Jimmy Ray. Robinson and Missy Wise, who plays Alice, have genuine chemistry and deliver Martin’s witty lines of dialogue with ease. As Alice’s co-workers at the Asheville Southern Journal, Darryl and Lucy, Dwayne Everett and Rachel Whyte both have superb comedic turns with impeccable timing.
Of course, BRIGHT STAR wouldn’t succeed without a sympathetic and powerful Alice at its center. Luckily, BoHo has found that in Wise. She has an immense acting challenge with this show. She needs to convince us both of Alice’s youthful optimism and blissful state of love in 1923, while in the 1946 scenes she must convey Alice as hardened and matured. As the audience pieces together Alice’s story as the show unfolds, Wise must play this context from the start. She easily and convincingly switches between these two modes. Wise is an immensely gifted vocalist, and she delivers every note with a bluegrass tinge that’s entirely suited to the score.
BRIGHT STAR has clearly found its guiding light with Wise as Alice, and the production on the whole is emotional and thoughtfully executed.
BoHo Theatre’s BRIGHT STAR runs through May 5 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 North Lincoln Avenue. Tickets are $35. Visit BoHoTheatre.com.
Photo Credit: Katie Stanley
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com