Review: ‘Bright Star’ Is A Mesmerizing Evening of Musical Theatre
It's hard not to gush when writing about Farmers Alley's production of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's musical "Bright Star". For fans of live theatre, it's delivers, and for anyone who hasn't experienced the magic of a great live performance, "Bright Star" will not disappoint. Every component of this production works. And because of the intimate setting at the Farmers Alley theatre, you're up close and right on it.
The two leads, Michelle Duffy and Jeremy Koch take you on an emotional roller coaster of love, joy and some heartbreak. But what stands out is that everyone in the cast, led by those two leads can truly sing. You don't hear anyone in the cast or the ensemble struggling to hit a note. It's why it was so easy to get lost in the story of this play. Everything flowed smoothly and naturally.
Duffy's voice is powerful and amazing. She easily could be a gospel singer but she's not the only one. Her co-star, Jeremy Koch is the perfect partner for her. Jason Koch and Natalie Duncan as the younger characters, Billy Cain and Margo Crawford are delightful. Koch is a current U of M student while Duncan is a graduate. Some might remember her from her days on the stage at Portage Central.
Christopher Harrod is wonderful in a sad, dramatic role as Billy Cain's father, and D. Neil Bremer as Jimmy Ray's father elicits a fair amount of emotion, too.
On the topic of Portage Central, its longtime theatre department head, Kathy Mulay, is the director of this musical. While some might associate musicals with comedy, and there are some funny moments in this production, there are also some tear-jerking moments, too. Her manages to get moving performances from the cast and the use of both technology and the given space never makes one forget the intimate size of this theatre.
"Bright Star is a musical...set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in 1945–46 with flashbacks to 1923. The musical is inspired by their Grammy-winning collaboration on the 2013 bluegrass album Love Has Come for You and, in turn, the folk story of the Iron Mountain Baby." If someone only knows Martin's career from television, movies or standup, or for that matter, Brickell's time in pop music, this musical will come a quite a surprise.
Duffy and Koch's characters, Alice and Jimmy Ray, age over two decades in the play, as the play goes back and forth in time, and it should be noted the excellent use of makeup makes you forget the time difference, as it doesn't call attention to itself. Also notable, it is no small feat getting authentic period costumes for a show this big, as it's the biggest production Farmers Alley has undertaken in at least five years.