Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 17, 2023

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, “Bright Star”

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through October 15, 2023
by R.E Smith
Casual observers wouldn’t think that the most wild and crazy comedian of the 1980’s and a
successful pop-chart act from that same time would come together and craft a sincerely old-fashion, nostalgic and affirming musical like “Bright Star”. But that’s what Steve Martin (music, book, story) and Edie Brickell (music lyrics, story) have done. Look deeper into their resumes though and one sees that he is an accomplished, award-winning banjo player and she has always worked in the folk genre.

So, with their common love of bluegrass music as the foundation, at its heart, “Bright Star” is a folk tale, brimming with good vs evil and Appalachian archetypes. It is also simultaneously a throwback to 1940’s musicals and movies, complete with an ahead of her time protagonist, snappy dialogue, an optimistic young soldier, and spunky comedic support.
There are two main protagonists with separate stories, and some fun comes from puzzling out how the disparate narratives will connect. Chelsie Nectow, as Alice Murphy plays the same character at two different ages, jumping back and forth in time. Sometimes steely modern magazine editor, other times clever, rebellious teenager, Nectow excels at both portrayals. Her powerful voice is especially well suited to the more traditional Broadway sounding “Way Back in the Day” and “At Long Last”. Michael Devito nicely embodies the big-dreaming Billy Cane, bright eyed and ready to take on the world. As often befits such an optimistic young man, he has a supportive admirers in good hometown girl, Margo (the delightful Emery Henderson) and worldly big-city gal Lucy (audience favorite Megan Mistretta).
The band, under the lively guidance of music director Elisabeth Weber, is vital to the proceedings, not quite fully visible on stage, but enough to reinforce the idea that the music is as much a character as any other performer on stage. Set designer Josiah Durham has crafted a versatile, intimate space that makes the audience feel comfortable and welcome upon entering the theater.
There is a surprising undercurrent of melancholy running through the proceedings that makes itself apparent from the first two songs, “If You Knew My Story” and “She’s Gone”. But those make the optimistic tone of the title tune that much more welcome. The book is not without some flaws, including a somewhat rushed conclusion, but by that time the audience is too heavily invested in the characters to pay much mind.
“Bright Star” had a fairly short run on Broadway, probably because it was too heartfelt and original for the big city crowd who is always searching for the next spectacle of a falling chandelier or a familiar story adapted from a Gen-X rom-com. But Producing Director Danny Eaton knows, especially these days, that his audience wants to be reassured (while their toes are tapping) that “The Sun is Going to Shine Again”.