Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 9, 2019

REVIEW: Opera House Players, Bright Star

Opera House Players, Enfield, CT
through September 22, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

Photo by Mike Druzolowski
In his “Director’s Notes” for the OHP production, John Pike calls “Bright Star” a “compassionate story of loss, redemption, and forgiveness.” After a four-month 2016 Broadway run that earned five Tony nominations (all won by the blockbuster “Hamilton”), a national tour, and several regional productions, Pike’s appealing cast of 22 singing actors brings this first non-professional presentation in Connecticut to poignant and entertaining life.

With music, book, and story by comedian and banjo player Steve Martin, and music, lyrics, and story by folk rock singer/songwriter Edie Brickell, the story was inspired by a turn-of-the-twentieth-century newspaper article headlined “The Iron Mountain Baby” about a lost child. It was reset for the stage to North Carolina during the 1920s and post-World War II 1940’s, which, in Pike’s words, “would be advantageous to the musical’s bluegrass stylings.”

To the central role of Alice Murphy, the formidable editor of the Asheville Southern Journal,
Nicole Wadleigh brings much of the same brightness and warmth with which Carmen Cusack created the role on Broadway. As her lifelong love interest, Jimmy Ray Dobbs, when the story flashes back from 1945 to 1923, Andrew Rosenstein exudes youthful ardor and a brilliant singing voice. To Billy Cane, an aspiring writer just returned from World War II, Stephen Koehler brings sensitivity and exuberance. As his childhood friend and, later, fiancĂ©e, bookstore manager Margo Crawford, Jackie DeMaio is fervent and affecting. Rodney K and Lindsay Ryan are hilariously over the top as Alice’s assistants Daryl and Lucy.

Musical highlights include: Koehler’s exhilarating “Bright Star,” celebrating Billy’s literary ambitions; Wadleigh’s hopeful “Sun Is Gonna Shine,” as Alice leaves her rural home for college; and Rosenstein’s shattering “Heartbreaker,” after Jimmy Ray receives tragic news from his father. Kim Aliczi’s six-piece orchestra is a true bluegrass band, featuring Ann-Marie Messbauer on fiddle, Tim Maynard on banjo, and Ron Calabrese on guitar and mandolin. Even their “Entr’acte” is stunning.

Clever set design by Jeff Clayton allows for seamless transitions by the actors between scenes. Inventive choreography by Hannah Gundersheim, resourceful costume design by Moonyean Field, and Pike’s skillful staging of the many ensemble numbers further enhance this must-see production.