A Moving Musical of Joy and Sorrow: “Bright Star”

by N.L. Thi-Hamrick on May 31, 2019 in Entertainment, Theatre, Living Texas, Dallas/Fort Worth,
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The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch triumphs yet again while making history, showcasing the DFW regional premiere of the acclaimed bluegrass musical “Bright Star.”

The celebrated hit made its Broadway debut in 2016, garnering several accolades, including Outer Critics Circle Awards, a Grammy nomination for best score, and five Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical.

Beloved Texas-born stars actor Steve Martin and musician Edie Brickell comprise the genius behind “Bright Star,” weaving a riveting story of family, love, tragedy and redemption inspired by the harrowing true events of the legendary Iron Mountain Baby, which Brickell has described as “nothing short of a miracle.” The glowing tale is beautifully told yet outshone by an even brighter cast, crew and production team. Martin even tweeted about this electric production, putting this Farmer’s Branch theater under the national spotlight!

The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch is the scene of the regional premiere of the acclaimed bluegrass musical “Bright Star,” which runs through June 9. Photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

Set in the American South post-World War II, there is an undercurrent of church and tradition with a strong backbone of self-discovery embodied by two leading voices, a driven literary editor and an ambitious veteran and aspiring author. Pursuing their dreams, the pair leaves home as if beckoned by guiding stars, even when that includes returning to their roots.

The audience is arrested immediately when a violin cuts through the expectant silence, joined by the incandescent voice of local favorite Lucy Shea who plays Alice Murphy. We’re drawn in raptly as Allen’s songbird sings, “If you knew my story, my Heaven and my Hell…you’d have a good story to tell.” Soon, the entire, shining ensemble adds to the chorus. “[Bright Star] is heavily ensemble driven, and the cast tells the story collaboratively… which adds so much depth and potential for some really beautiful moments,” says Shea.

Directed for the Firehouse Theatre by Plano native Tyler Jeffrey Adams, “Bright Star” weaves a riveting story of family, love, tragedy and redemption. Photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

The next song moves you to tears as a young soldier returns home for a powerful reunion, accentuated by rich harmonies and simple, yet effective instrumentation between Jason Craig West, playing Billy Cane, debuting at the theatre in a brilliant sunburst, and multi-talented Sonny Franks, playing Daddy Cane. Franks, equipped with the quintessential banjo and guitar, brings a wealth of gravity to the performance, having also appeared in the first regional production of the musical at Virginia’s Barter Theatre.

Striking a swift rhythm, we’re washed through a myriad of emotions, including the innocence of young love depicted by Emily Emmett, who plays Margot Crawford. We indulge in enchanting romance, reflected in a tender duet between Alex Branton, playing Jimmy Ray Dobbs, and Shea during “What Could Be Better” — so luscious you feel as if you can reach out and stroke the velvety notes and poignant lyrics.

Propelled by an ensemble of onstage musicians and dancers, “Bright Star” unfolds to the heartbeat of beautiful melodies. Photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

Behind the scenes yet omnipresent in every detail is director Tyler Jeffrey Adams, a Plano native and local superstar.

“I use lots of minimal sets, exposing things like set changes, costume changes and band members,” Adams says, as this can, “show the audience the magic of theatre…inviting them to be a part of the experience.” The stage is furnished with rustic details such as dial phones, weathered antiques and glittering strung lights, creating an immersive, bucolic ambiance.

Transitions are innovative and seamless, including cinematic moments such as ensemble member Thi Le dancing nimbly across the stage, carrying a simple sheet that is completely transformed into a crucial element of the story. Likewise, Daniel Moody, armed with violin, opens a particularly gripping moment, silhouetted in a solitary spotlight that sharpens and visually dramatizes his every move.

“Bright Star” is inspired by a real event and features the Grammy-nominated score by native Texans Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

We’re also afforded the pleasure of seeing Firehouse Theatre veterans Morgan Maxey, playing Lucy Grant, and Gabriel Ethridge, as Daryl. The delightful duo and real-life couple we enjoyed in the whimsical musical “The Boyfriend,” is back and vibrant as ever, embracing their parts with reverence and perfect comedic delivery during lighthearted moments.

Adams agrees he has “…an amazing cast in this show”, which, with “…the right production team” will give you “…magic with your audiences,” affirming, “It feels like we have the stars (bright stars) aligning just for our production.”

This shining ode celebrates the human spirit’s resilience, and is complemented by a luminous cast and band, forming a captivating, collective, storytelling force with expertly choreographed musical sets that will, as Adams promises, “stay with you” long after finale.

“Bright Star” plays on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. until June 9th. Tickets start at $14, available at the Box Office (972-620-3747) or online.
And see what’s coming up next at Firehouse Theatre!

Cover photo Jason Anderson, Pendleton Photography

N.L.Thi-Hamrick is devoted to all things that bring joy: good food, writing freely, lots of smiles, and pursuing things that make you feel worthwhile.