Bright Star 


Through Sunday, Jun. 23

NCSU’s Titmus Theatre, Raleigh

Steve Martin has long been a beloved comedian, actor, essayist, and bluegrass enthusiast, but his career on stage has been far more checkered. That’s part of the reason why this TheatreFest production of Bright Star, Martin’s 2015 Broadway musical with songwriter Edie Brickell, is actually stronger in places than its material. 

When Martin’s script seeks to associate itself with his betters—as gruff literary editor Alice Murphy (a fine Tina Morris-Anderson) and her staff namedrop famous wordsmiths, including Carl Sandburg, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers—the inevitable comparisons hardly favor Martin.

In this tale about the rise of a young Appalachian writer named Billy Cane (an earnest Benaiah Barnes), a social occasion crucial to the plot is graced with the vivid title “Couples Day” before Billy announces his inevitable discovery of love in deathless prose: “I think I’m seeing you in a new way.” 

Brickell’s plainspoken lyrics too often stay too on the nose. “I’m ready for my life to begin / I’m ready for it all to start,” Billy asserts in the title song. “There goes our chance for happiness / And all our hopes and dreams,” Young Jimmy Ray (Chris Inhulsen) forthrightly despairs in “Heartbreaker.” 

Only the wistful first-act tune “Asheville,” imaginatively staged by director Rachel Klem and lighting designer Joshua Reaves, fully benefits from such economy of expression.

Still, Diane Petteway’s solid musical direction makes for show-stopping moments. She and choreographer Morgan Piner take Texas swing to a boozy barroom in the raucous “Another Round,” before Daryl Ray Carliles gives a Lyle Lovett take on “I Had a Vision.” 

Though Morris-Anderson’s climactic song, “At Last,” reunites two couples and a mother and child after too long a separation, it can’t erase the cardboard scripting of an earlier reconciliation between an estranged dad and daughter. In a play about writing, the writing’s the problem in Bright Star

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