SPOILER ALERT! Some plot points are revealed below so stop reading if you don't want to know.
Bright Star follows Alice Murphy as a teenager in the 1920s and an adult in the '40s in North Carolina. Back in the '20s, she falls in love with the charming Jimmy Ray, gets pregnant, and has her baby stolen from her by Jimmy Ray's father because he thinks Jimmy Ray's future would be hampered by a wife and baby. In the '40s, Alice unwittingly meets her long-lost son, for whom she's been searching for 23 years, when young vet Billy submits his stories for publication in Alice's magazine. They of course don't recognize each other at first, making the eventual reunion all the sweeter. The narrative switches back and forth between the two timepoints in a way that's easy to follow and makes both stories come alive. It's a frustrating story - a bunch of men tell Alice what to do with her body and her child, Jimmy Ray can't face Alice after finding out what his father did, and the two live separate lives for decades - but the emotions run high and the resolution is (almost) worth the pain inflicted on everyone.
|photo by Twin Cities Headshots|
The relatively simple but effective set (designed by Katie Phillips) is dominated by a wooden porch where the six piece band (ably led by Elise Santa on keyboard) sits. Because of space limitations at Lyric's stage, the orchestra is usually in a room upstairs, piped in, which works fine. But it's so much better when everyone is in the same room, and when the audience can see the musicians. Director Scott Ford has members of his large and talented cast (dressed in period and location appropriate costumes by Samantha Kuhn Staneart) sitting or standing on stage, on the porch or around the perimeter, for much of the action. They watch the scenes play out, which heightens the effect of Alice telling her story, as she sings in the opening number. Choreographer Heidi Spesard-Noble has created some beautiful, flowing movements for the cast, often continued through scene transitions, as another element that helps you feel the emotions of the story. The two and a half hour show flows beautifully.
|the young lovers Jimmy Ray (Chris Paulson)|
and Alice (Katie Strom Rozanas)
(photo by Twin Cities Headshots)
Lyric Arts' production of Bright Star is one of four (by my count) regional premieres of recent Broadway musicals happening in Minnesota, but not Minneapolis or St. Paul, this season. (See also Duluth's Renegade Theater's stellar Fun Home last month, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder at Old Log Theatre in Excelsior in October, and The Bridges of Madison County at Artistry in Bloomington in January.) I commend Lyric Arts for taking a risk on a new work and bringing it to #TCTheater audiences for the first time (the Broadway tour did not come to Minnesota). It's a great choice for them and their stage - a gorgeous sweeping musical with an intimate story, beautifully brought to life by the cast and creative team. More of this please!