Joyful, heartbreaking, and satisfying, Bright Star, the new musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, comes to San Francisco’s Curran Theater. Featuring the two lead actors from the original Broadway production in their compelling roles, this is a fabulous show you won’t want to miss.
Bright Star tells two interlocking stories about hardship and resilience in the American South during the 1920s and 40s. The protagonists of each plotline, Alice Murphy (played by Carmen Cusack) and Billy Cane (A.J. Shively) are filled with a spirit and fortitude that tugs at the heartstrings of audience members and keeps them engaged until the last lines of the play. We follow Billy forward into his dreams of becoming a writer and Alice backward to the events that shaped her as a young woman. Together, they form a captivating snapshot of Southern Americana and a moving story of people “born to carry more than [they] can hold.”
The set is incredible. Streamlined and deceptively simple, each set piece plays multiple roles. A wooden frame of a house contains the six-piece band and rolls around the stage to take part in the plot as well. Each scene change is choreographed and executed so beautifully that they become part of the story. Even costume changes become a way to tell the story. During the song “Way Back in the Day” Cusack walks right out of her high heels and steps into her past in the Southern countryside.
“It would be easier to get Lincoln off the face of Mt. Rushmore than to get home out of the heart of a Southern writer.” – Alice Murphy, Bright Star
Carmen Cusack is a wonder to behold as Alice Murphy. I am not the first to compliment Cusack on her incredible performance, but that doesn’t make it any less warranted. She is equally convincing playing a teenager falling in love for the first time early in the show as she is as an emotionally closed off editor later. When she sings, it is impossible to look away from the heartfelt emotion she displays. The audience is drawn into her joy and heartbreak from the first song, “If You Knew My Story,” to the last pluck of the banjo.
If the show has a flaw, it’s that it is predictable. I was able to predict most of the plot by the middle of scene four, but somehow that didn’t make the show any less enjoyable. A good story, well told, is like a roller coaster. Even if you can see the loop coming at the end, it’s not the same as experiencing the ride—and Bright Star is darn good ride.
Bright Star is playing at the Curran Theater in San Francisco, November 28 through December 17, 2017. The show runs about two hours with one intermission. Tickets range from $39 to $175.
Photos courtesy of Craig Schwartz.