‘BRIGHT STAR’ SHINES WITH FLARE, COMEDY, DRAMA, AND GOOD OLD FASHION COUNTRY LOVE, THE CAST IS WONDERFUL
The Palo Alto players opens their “If You Knew My Story” 89th season that takes us back to the hills of North Carolina with a starlight musical that will warm your heart. BRIGHT STAR is now on stage at the Lucie Stern Theatre only through September 29th. This new musical features music by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell with lyrics by Brickell and the book by Martin. This PAP production is staged by Artistic Director Patrick Klein who said “In a time of cynicism, it is refreshing to hear a tale that is touching and full of hope.”
BRIGHT STAR shines with a powerhouse local cast that tells this story of family and redemption. Managing director of PAP, the terrific Elizabeth Santana, plays Alice and leads us on this journey with her gifted vocals and partner swinging moves. The opening night sold out audience was set for good old fashioned bluegrass. BRIGHT STAR features 20 original songs with mixes of Americana Classic, touches of Rock, Folk, and Bluegrass. The nine member on stage band under the direction of Daniel Hughes features the gifted Dan Mazer on Banjo as he brings the banner song “Bright Star” to a hoedown party.
The story tells the true tale of three generations taking place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina between 1923 and 1945. Steve Martin heard this tale and says “its as old as the hills” we have to stage this musical. Billy Cane, a young soldier home from World War II, meets Alice Murphy, the brilliant editor of a Southern literary journal. Together they discover a powerful secret that alters their lives. The dapper and handsome Brad Satterwhite plays the young writer, Billy; he opens the story with the title song banner song ”Bright Star”. Satterwhite is perfect with Santana and their onstage battle for wit and writing skills. He sings “She’s Gone” when he learns his mom has died and proves his keen voice alongside the splendid Gary Giurbino as his dad, Mr Cane.
Director Klein stages this hand clapping musical of enduring love, family ties, like a bright star. The story jumps back and forth between two time eras and two families who may have a mysterious bond between them. The two and a half hour musical opens with “If You Knew My Story” featuring the stunning Santana with her pitch perfect voice, and the cast with their awsome vocals and country steps. The band is on stage built into Klein’s set design of a wooden barn, and frames the company as the on stage live sound is always foot tapping. Music Director Hughes, along with the nine member band, is the highlight of the musical featuring wonderful solos from Mazer and others.
Steve Martin has already proved himself as an honored playwright for PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE and THE UNDERPANTS. His debut as a Broadway author and composer is a huge success with BRIGHT STAR. He and co-writer song master Edie Brickell aim straight for the heart with this show. Martin’s and Brickell’s bluegrass pop score is an easy listen and is filled with wonderful acoustic sounds. One lyric sets up “If you knew my story, you’d have a story to tell.” Later in the song “What Could Be Better,” Martin writes “I’m ready for my life to begin, I’m ready for it all to start.” The score and songs are infectious, especially since they want to make you grab your partner round and round.
The musical gets strong performances from a seasoned cast which includes local favorite Frankie Mulcahy as Jimmy Dobbs who is paired perfectly with his love for Alice. Santana and Mulcahy sing “Whoa Mama” and the lovely “I Had a Vision” that will bring you to tears. Giurbino as Daddy Cane, and the dynamic Michael Mendelson as Daddy Murphy both sing the dramatic “Please Don’t Take Him”. The villain Mayor Dobbs is played by the accomplished Todd Wright who sings the blues song “A Mans Gotta Do” with a deep baritone.
The feel good Michelle Skinner plays receptionist Margo Crawford, and the fisky camp Nick Kenrick as Alice’s dandy amusing assistant Daryl keep the story entertaining. The passionate Juliet Green as Mama Murphy, sings the act two opening number “Sun’s Gonna Shine” along with the ensemble that includes; Justin Fan, John Ramirez-Ortiz, Katherine Bonn, Lydia Cuffman, William Rhea, Cheril Ellingson, Rebecca Euchler, Justin Kerekes, and as Max the impressive Jomar Martienz.
Martin and Brickell capture the mood as many of the songs are optimistic, keeping the full throttle ensemble moving. The enchanting song "My Baby" flows well like a country folk waltz; "Way Back in the Day" is Alice's memory of simpler times; and the down-home upbeat "Firmer Hand," in which the bible thumping Daddy Murphy scolds the love lost Alice, along to the rhythm of foot-stomps in some of choreographer Meredith Joelle Charlson’s smooth dance numbers. Two songs from the original album are in the show, in an altered form: “Asheville” and “Sun’s Gonna Shine.”
Director Klein and choreographer Charlson keep the show exciting as the cast blends into the story and the fluid set design takes us back and forth between now and then. Klein draws on the talents of his craft team; Chris Lundahl, whose lighting captures period and the moody and elegant lit backdrop. Lundahl’s lights set the mood with each change of time setting. Patrick Tyler costuming is an ode to classic Southern style and propriety. Sound designer Jeff Grafton keeps the show's rich song style grounded and Scott Ludwig’s props included the important travel bag and the Mayor’s busy liquor collection.
The second act includes a rousing center stage solo with the nine member band and brought the sold out opening night audience to cheers. The time frames of events knit together as the past and present bring this tale to its warm teary close. BRIGHT STAR is a show that smiles with flare, comedy, dance mixed with some audience clapping and tapping, and a good-old fashioned country love. It is a must see. Next up at Palo Alto Players is the Holiday musical A CHRISTMAS STORY that opens November 8th. MATILDA The Musical opens next spring, but in the meantime join the ongoing bluegrass celebration BRIGHT STAR.
Palo Alto Players Presents
Book, Music, and Story By Steve Martin
Lyrics, Music, and Story by Edie Brickell
Directed by Patrick Klien
Music Director Daniel Hughes
Choreographer Meredith Joelle Charlson
Must Close September 29th
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road Palo Alto, CA 94301
Running Time two hours thirty minutes - with one intermission
photo credit: Scott Lasky
Vmedia Arts GO SEE A SHOW at opening night of BRIGHT STAR