A witty small-town girl and the mayor’s son falling in love may sound like your traditional love story, but Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s “Bright Star” is far from traditional; based on the story of an abandoned baby being thrown from a train in 1923. Ursuline Academy took head-on this story of teenage pregnancy, love, and redemption in the 1920s and 1940s. It shows that one can be successful even when all odds seem against them and it may take a while, but everything will turn out the way it should.
Based on true events, Bright Star, follows fictional character Alice Murphy from her troublesome youth to her successful future. In her younger years, Alice falls in love with the mayor’s son, Jimmy Ray, who shares mutual feelings with her and expresses it on the river bay after a dance. As a result, Alice finds herself to be a teenager who’s pregnant and hides herself away in a cabin through the pressure of her father, her doctor, and the mayor until her son is born. Through her father’s and Mayor Dobb’s doing, her son is given up for adoption so neither of the families will be humiliated. By 1946, Alice owns The Asheville Southern Journal where she oversees all writing and stories that come in. That year, a young veteran from World War II comes in to publish some of his stories, which in turn makes Alice long to find her son all over again.
The towns of Hayes Creek, Asheville, and Zebulon are filled with many emotions as it follows the story of Alice Murphy. With the entire cast and orchestra remaining on stage for the entirety of the performance, this brought more life to each song and scene as it felt that the audience was truly in these towns. Jumping between 1923 and 1946, costumes, and the actor’s aging that was portrayed, were distinctly different. The choreography and energy seemed excitable in the first act and continued even further in the second act, especially through the more complex dances. Throughout the musical, it seemed as if everyone had a role with a life and backstory behind them, whether they were a lead or in the ensemble.
In this lesser-known musical, each performer brought a truly memorable image of their characters with them. The story mainly follows Alice Murphy, portrayed by Ellen Schlecht who was truly outstanding. The vocals and character development of Alice Murphy made for a demanding role, jumping between emotions and timelines, but they were beautifully done by Schlecht, considering how vocally demanding it was. Another character that truly stood out was Jimmy Ray Dobbs, played by Braedon Carney, who showed a traditionally masculine character feeling a variety of emotions through his life with and without Alice. Jack Krukiel, who played Billy Cane, added a dynamic part to this cast as a World War II veteran who aspired to be a writer in the south. Krukiel’s vocals and emotions definitely added to his character.
A true dynamic duo within Bright Star was Lucy Grant, portrayed by Bridget Peach, and Darla Ames, portrayed by Maggie Lober. Peach’s overzealous interactions with Krukiel and Lober’s stolid reactions created truly funny scenes even though they weren’t too vocally demanding. An actress that truly stood out, with limited stage time, was Briarra Barnes, who portrayed Mama Murphy. Her solos in various songs truly added to the scenes she was in and her voice flowed with each song. The ensemble, as a whole, added to the excitement of the show and came to further represent what was happening in the scenes through their choreography. The choice to keep the ensemble and orchestra onstage was innovative and helped keep the larger scenes alive, but sometimes took away from smaller scenes with three or fewer characters in them.
The stage crew was especially unique in this show as the stage crew was actually the cast members that moved pieces of set. The set consisted of a movable porch, bookshelves, and chairs, with signs hung to determine where the scene was taking place. The orchestra did well, but sometimes played louder than the singers, which took away from the songs. The lights, although subtle, truly did affect the scenes, especially in bigger moments with Alice’s turning points in her life. The cast did especially well in Schlecht’s live costume change, which was done smoothly considering she was walking as she was being changed.
Ursuline Academy’s Bright Star was full of many raw emotion as it followed the non-traditional story of Alice Murphy. Being a newer musical and with a lesser popular music genre was extremely well done, especially on a high school level. Through character development from all cast members, the show truly felt like it was their own. This production of Bright Star was most definitely worth seeing, especially if you haven’t seen or heard anything from this musical before. Ursuline’s Bright Star truly captured the heart of the south in a time so long ago.