Theatre Review: “Bright Star,” 2016 at the Cort, Broadway

On Saturday, May 21, I attended the matinee performance of “Bright Star.” It won me over. One word before you stop reading. Go!

The show itself proved to have a big heart and was welcoming and loving. Only a true curmudgeon would not want to love it back.

"Bright Star" Playbill cover
“Bright Star” Playbill cover

I’ve grown fond of the music after numerous listenings to the score (available at Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records). Hearing it played live was real treat. It was even more lively in the theatre and the on-stage musicians were fun company. The lyrics are just as repetitive and filled with poor rhymes as they are on the recording. Like a relative with poor grammar, however, what in-the-Hell is one going do except wince privately to oneself. Still, I couldn’t help tapping my toes all the way through the end of the audience exit music. The Orchestrations by August Eriksmoen, and the Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Rob Berman are outstanding.

Steve Martin, the show’s co-composer and co-lyricist with Edie Brickell, made an unannounced appearance with the on-stage musicians to play the Entr’acte. He plays a mean banjo.

The choreography by Josh Rhodes was winning too, especially in the “Another Round” number, danced and sung by Emily Padgett and A. J.Shively. The Director, Walter Bobbie, kept things moving, unfortunately those efforts—mostly actors pushing, pulling and turning sets and props on stage—bordered on distracting. I saw this in another musical recently and it was distracting there too. I so wish directors would keep it simple.

Carmen Cusack, star of "Bright Star"
Carmen Cusack, star of “Bright Star”

Carmen Cusack was genuinely brilliant, radiating love and joy whenever she was on stage. She deserves to win the upcoming TONY if there is any justice in the world. She was warm, she was funny, she played her emotions and made them real, and boy did she sing. Paul Alexander Nolan, as her love interest, showed his strong voice along with good masculine looks to match. It was easy to imagine and to want them to be a couple.

I still stand behind my earlier comments about the recording. Seeing the show in the Cort Theatre highlighted a critical point. The show’s producers and director should have cast secondary leads with voices distinct from the leads. That is not a criticism of Hannah Elless or A. J. Shively, the secondary leads.  They are both terrific performers, singing and acting so fine.  Seeing “Bright Star” on stage helped me understand  the story.  It also pointed out how critical good casting is to good story-telling. A smart producer would ensure that the secondary leads are never confused with the leads, vocally or physically.

Let me be clear, “Bright Star” is by no means the greatest musical ever. What it is though is a warm, true, well-meaning, heart-tugging, tear-inducing, toe-tapping musical with a brilliant Broadway debut.

As I wrote earlier, Go! You’ll be glad you did., Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48 St., Broadway


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