Photos by Caught in the Moment Photography
Is it better to know or to hope? Star-crossed lovers ponder that thought in the enchanting musical Bright Star, when destiny– aka social norms– tears their lives apart. Broken-hearted and traumatized, Alice Murphy (Anna Mintzer) and Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Devin Archer) go on to build successful careers at different cities while each secretly carries the other person in their heart.
This romantic story shifts swiftly between the 1920s and 1940s, presenting the unpredictable twists in Alice’s life when she is a taboo-breaking, book-loving teenager who falls for the charming son of the powerful mayor of Blue Ridge Mountains. The play also documents her life when she is the aloof prominent editor of the prestigious Ashville Southern Journal.
In addition to shifting between times and locations in North Carolina, the musical also smoothly moves between stories. Billy Cane (Taubert Nadalini) has just returned from war and is ready to follow his writing ambitions. Brimming with positivity now that war is over, Billy submits his stories to Alice Murphy. She admits that he has talent but urges him to create a “sweeping tale of pain and redemption,” what the Bright Star itself turns out to be.
The poignant melodrama, with banjos and fiddles, raises difficult questions about ethical dilemmas, matters of heart vs. head and carrying guilt to one’s deathbed. The theme of “what life brings you” contrasted with “what you bring to life,” i.e. how human attitude shapes life more than events do, runs deeply in this amiable tribute to optimism.
The sets and costumes are sophisticated and borrowed from the original Broadway production by Grammy-, Emmy- and Academy Award-winning actor Steve Martin. The lyrics are by award-winning singer Edie Brickell. The cast members are graceful and confident in their roles. The director and choreographer Richard Gatta and the music director Dennis Castellano prove their skills in taking such an outstanding show to the stage.
A wooden structure that glides on the stage hides some of the musicians, and the rest are on the lower level of the stage. A small chorus with delightful choreography hovers swiftly in the background and plays minor roles. The songs are sweet and energetic, and the mostly acoustic music plays a prominent role in this show.
Bright Star is a rich show, charming the audience with powerful and nostalgic music, a captivating story and a brilliant cast.
Bright Starruns from Oct. 19 through Nov. 4 on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at various hours. Tickets are between $20 to $92. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach, CA 90817. For reservations and information, call (562) 856-1999, ext. 4, or go to Musical.org.