by Jody Key –Managing Editor — 10/10, 2019
From now until November 10th, the Historic Holly Theatre is offering a gem of an Appalachian tale written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. BRIGHT STAR was tailor made for southern audiences who can truly appreciate its bluegrass feel and down-home charm.
The scene is set in the Appalachians of North Carolina in the year 1946. When a young man fresh from the war named Billy Cane returns to his home of Hayes Creek, he is greeted by his father and childhood friend, Margo, only to find his mother has passed away. An aspiring writer, Billy decides to visit the Asheville Southern Journal to submit his writings for publishing. He is brushed off by Journal employees Darryl and Lucy, but the editor of the Journal, Alice Murphy, takes a liking to Billy based on a brazen lie he tells to win her favor as she states, “Liars make good writers.” She encourages him and buys one of his stories for ten dollars. Billy returns home to tell his father and Margo that he intends to move to Asheville and pursue his writing career, much to Margo’s dismay. She had envisioned a life with Billy, but puts her secret pining aside to support his dreams.
The story is peppered with Alice’s remembrances of flashback scenes from 1923, when she fell in love with Jimmy Rae Dobbs. Their union is not approved of by his father, Daddy Cane, mayor of their hometown of Zebulon. Daddy Cane feels that Jimmy Rae would be throwing his life away marrying Alice. Unfortunate circumstances ensue, and Alice and Jimmy are unwillingly forced apart and take different paths. Without giving too much away, rest assured this is a story of love, heartache, betrayal, and redemption served up with a side dish of heartwarming bluegrass music and seasoned with just the right amount of humor.
While the show sounds like a simple tale, it has several scene changes and numerous technical challenges. Under the capable direction of Dawn Phipps, the Holly Stage has been transformed by set designer Dean Morrison into small town Appalachia complete with two quaint front porches. The various scenes of Margo’s bookstore, The offices of the Journal and the Mayor, a cabin in the woods, and a tavern move on and off stage and are expertly lit by the styling of Alan Sibert. Somehow they also manage to stage a bus and a train over a river, complete with caboose. Costumes by Jeannie Crawford are period correct and include a clever on-stage quick change as Alice transitions from the middle aged woman of 1946 to the young girl of 1923.
Music Director Leanne Kinney is surrounded with talent both vocally and instrumentally. The ensembles’ sweet harmonies mixed with the bands’ expertise are a feast for the ears.
Alice is played by Carly Berg, who, after several years, is returning to the Holly Stage where she grew up. With the experience of the Gainesville Theater Alliance, a degree in theater from Brenau, and a successful career both with her children’s theater company Play On Players and teaching theater at award winning Lambert high school, she tackles the daunting task of transitioning from no-nonsense middle age Alice to carefree teenage Alice with uncanny believe-ability. She also proves she still has the power to carry a show with her flawless vocals and dancing skills.
Craig Lovell is returning to the Holly Stage as Jimmy Rae, and also transitions from boy to man accurately. He possesses a likability that is essential to the character, and his vocals and acting resonate well as this role demands both toughness and tenderness.
The pairing of Berg and Lovell is especially magical as the two are real-life sweethearts off-stage, so their on-stage chemistry is the real deal. Their voices blend together beautifully and their love for each other transcends the stage.
Jake Williams as Billy and Emily Shorthill as Margo are also a great pairing, and the two share many tender moments. Emily’s rich, full voice is beautifully showcased in “Asheville”, and blends nicely with Jake’s in “Always Will”.
Megan Jurkovic as Mamma Murphy is back on the Holly Stage after wowing audiences as Mrs. Hannigan in ANNIE, and as Alice’s mother, she adds her beautiful and powerful voice to Carly’s to create harmonies that will evoke goose-pimples and bring a tear to the eye. Don’t forget pack some tissues as you’re sure to need them.
Other Key-noteworthy performances include Michael Arens as Daddy Cane, Fiona Hare as Lucy, Taylor Cassell as Edna, and Darian Payne as Florence. In addition, the rest of the cast and ensemble work together seamlessly to deliver a stellar performance that is one of the best yet offered by the Holly.
Our assessment is that this show is a KeyNoteworthy must see for anyone who loves a good story and a heartwarming musical. BRIGHT STAR plays at the Historic Holly Theatre weekends until November 10th. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.hollytheater.com