by Ed Katz
June 14, 2016
What if I told you I am not a bluegrass fan and I knew how the story would end (while it was still in Act One) yet- despite both those facts- I thoroughly enjoyed this new musical by Tony Award nominees Steve Martin and Edie Brickell?
I will bet most who attend are likely to figure out the ending long before it happens, too- but will still enjoy the show as if it was a complete surprise (and it was, to several in the audience the night I saw it, judging by the many gasps at the big reveal.)
The real surprise, though, is that the show is a true delight- even if the ending isn't a surprise.
Under Walter Bobbie's direction (Tony Award winner for directing the Broadway revival of 'Chicago'- now in its 20th year), 'Bright Star' is moving and enjoyable and Bobbie keeps the ensemble twirling when the pace needs to be picked up and stationary when the scene calls for gravitas.
Carmen Cusack, making her Broadway debut, turns in easily one of the best performances of the year in a true breakout (forgive me for saying it) bright, starring role. Cusack certainly deserves her nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
As Alice Murphy, her transformation from mischievous, coquette adolescent to intelligent but dour, dispassionate magazine publisher later in life is remarkable; just as it is watching her open herself back up emotionally again towards the end of the show.
Her slight frame belies the incredible power of her voice- particularly in her climactic, show-stopping number, 'At Long Last.'
But Cusack doesn't carry the show alone. The entire cast deserves kudos- particularly Paul Alexander Nolan, as Alice's true love, and Hannah Elless and A.J. Shively as a young couple trying to figure out if they are in love.
Jeff Blumenkrantz and Emily Padgett (who was so wonderful as co-lead in the under-appreciated Broadway revival of 'Side Show') supply comic relief as well as some impressive dancing in key supporting roles while Michael Mulheren manages to bring compassion to the one 'bad guy' role.
I even found the bluegrass music grew on me- because it worked well in the show- and the orchestra, heavy on string instruments, as you might expect (from banjo to guitar to mandolin, violin and, of course, fiddle), was excellent.
A nice bonus was the instrumental the orchestra played, center stage, to open Act Two that had the audience clapping in unison to the infectious rhythm.
This 'Bright Star' shines brightly on Broadway, but only until June 26th, as that will be the show's final performance. So time is running out to see Carmen Cusack's extraordinary Broadway debut. She fully deserves the great buzz she has generated. Everyone in the audience stood and cheered at the end of the show.
My bet is you will, too.
'Bright Star' earned five 2016 Tony Awards nominations, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Lead Actress in a Musical, and Best Orchestration and it won the 2016 Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical and Best Score.
Don't miss it! And you know where you can get the best tickets: Applause Theater & Entertainment Service, 800.451.9930 or online at www.applause-tickets.com.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)