Saturday, April 27, 2019

Wetumpka Depot: "Bright Star"

In a busy week for River Region theatres, the Wetumpka Depot opened a buoyant Bluegrass musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell; under the direction of Kristy Meanor and musical direction of Randy Foster, Bright Star has a cast of 19 and a terrific 7-piece orchestra (some of whom are in the cast) who transport audiences to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in 1945, and with flashback sequences to 1923.

Alice Murphy [Adrian Lee Borden] intrigues us at the start with "If You Knew My Story", leading to a saga of love and loss, forgiveness and reconciliation.

It's 1945 when Billy Cane [Brandtley McDonald] returns from serving in World War II to his home in the mountains where his childhood friend and would-be sweetheart Margo Crawford [Brittney Johnston] has edited several stories he has sent her and encourages him to publish them ("Bright Star"). -- He goes to Asheville where he meets Alice, the editor of The Asheville Southern Journal, who eventually gives him a chance to find his own voice as a writer. -- Reminiscing on her younger days, the play flashes back to 1923, where a budding romance between her younger self and Jimmy Ray [Alex Freeman] is thwarted by his tyrannical father Mayor Dobbs [Scott Page] who will do anything to stop their romance ("A Man's Gotta Do"), especially when Alice becomes pregnant and the Mayor forbids their marriage and insists she put her baby up for adoption.

Complications ensue as the two stories get more and more intertwined. Over the two acts, secrets are kept for good or ill, loyalties are tested, atrocities are revealed; yet love will ultimately reconcile the central characters.

Production values are all top notch:  Ms. Meanor's composite rustic set,  Cherry Jones's lovely period costumes, and Matthew Oliver's striking wigs are enhanced by Tom Salter's effectively atmospheric lighting and Jackson Dean's evocative sound design.

But it is the acting and music that carries the day. Each of the likable principal and supporting actors is gifted with a strong singing voice that interprets the lyrics and carries without amplification; and they make us care about their individual concerns. The ensemble actors in supporting roles embellish the story with important plot details and help develop the major characters' relationships. And even Mr. Page's portrayal of the heinous Mayor is admirable as the one man we are supposed to despise.

Mr. Foster's admirable on-stage orchestra playing an assortment of traditional Bluegrass instruments carries the action from moment to moment with ballads, rousing dance numbers effectively choreographed by Daniel Harms, anthems, plaintive reminiscences, and hopeful winsomeness with instrumentation that supports the actors and augments their behavior and relationships.

This production of Bright Star has all the markings of yet another hit for the Wetumpka Depot.