By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
When Bright Star opened on Broadway in 2016, hopes were high. Here was a new musical featuring a score by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, with Martin also supplying the book and Brickell the lyrics. These were big names, even if not necessarily associated with musical theater. (Although Martin had had, by that time, moderate success with two stage comedies, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and The Underpants.)
Bright Star continues through May 26. New Hazlett Theater, North Side. www.frontporchpgh.com
The production, however, barely lasted four months. At the time, some people blamed that failure on a bad marketing campaign which had left potential audience members unsure what Bright Star was about.
So here I am to tell you what it’s about … it’s about more than I can stand.
But let us sing the praises first. Bright Star is receiving it’s local premiere from the fine folks at Front Porch Theatricals and, as with each and every one of their previous ventures, the quality of the production is the very definition of high quality.
Though the Brickell and Martin country/bluegrass score isn’t the kind of music I usually listen to, there’s no denying that the songs are really rather beautiful in their way with high energy group numbers and soulful ballads given additional poignancy with all the strumming and fiddling.
The Front Porch production features enormously impressive work from music director Douglas Levine and his eight piece band attacking this score with insight and technical virtuosity.
Director Nick Mitchell has assembled a 16 person (!) cast of local actors who just plow their way through the show with both soaring voices and enough musical physicality to bring Mara Newbery Greer’s illuminating choreography to life.
Erin Lindsey Krom is a powerhouse in the lead role, commanding the stage with her talent and presence and Jerreme Rodriguez is every bit her equal as her thwarted lover. Miller Jay Kraps and Marnie Quick get a chance to unload thrilling voices as another pair of lovebirds. The whole cast, though, does a great job, with Mitchell’s swift and on-point direction, moving us through the story; each contributing in their own way and I want to mention Nicholas Kochanov’s sharp turn in a bitchy supporting role which manages to cut through some of the script’s worse excesses.
Johnmichael Bohach has designed a lovely set beautifully lit by lighting designer Andrew David Ostrowski and Anthony James Sirk has supplied the gorgeous period costumes.
And, um, the stage manager and crew kept the whole production moving smoothly.
And the layout of the program is pretty good as well.
Okay, I’ve been trying to put it off but we have to talk about it – this is just about one of the dumbest shows I’ve ever seen … and I’ve sat through Cats! It takes place in the Southland and it’s about this young writer who sets off a chain of events which lead to the unmasking of an old mysterious family secret.
But “mysterious” only if you’re missing a couple of frontal lobes and a Southland existing solely in Heehaw reruns. The whole thing is like some cliché-ridden soap opera which has been dredged in 11 herbs and spices and fried in lard. Each of the characters is a nuance-free cartoon cutout and every emotion they feel and action they commit is something you’ve seen done before and better.
And in one particular case, way before and very much better. It involves the climax of the show and the unmitigated gall of Martin and Brickell. (I guess I should say “spoiler alert” but if you didn’t see the end of the show coming at you in the first 20 minutes, I’m not sure how you found your way to theater.)
It turns out that one of the characters is the long, lost son of one of the other characters. And this is revealed when the parent notices a handbag in which the infant was placed all those years ago.
No … you’re reading that correctly. I said handbag. Or Lady Bracknell says it in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest – where a young man’s true identity is revealed via the display of an old handbag. It’s probably the greatest (and funniest) joke in the history of the English-speaking stage and certainly a legendary comedian like Martin cannot be unaware of it. It’s just a lazy way to end something which, all in all, should probably never have been begun.