From January 12-27, Salt Lake City will receive some old-fashioned Southern charm at Pioneer Theatre Company. PTC is presenting the touring production of “Bright Star,” a new musical written by beloved comedian and actor Steve Martin and folk singer-songwriter Edie Brickell. Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, “Bright Star” is the story of Alice Murphy, the editor of a small-town newspaper, “The Asheville Southern Journal.” In a narrative that alternates timelines between the 1920s and the 1940s, adult Murphy works on the newspaper and befriends an aspiring writer while attempting to reconcile her troubled past two decades earlier.
Though many musicals feature their most recognizable talent front and center on stage, the most famous person working on “Bright Star” never soaks up the spotlight. Steve Martin has worked for decades in film and television, and is widely considered to be one of the best comedians of all time. Though he rose to prominence as a performer, Martin’s talents as a writer have been well documented. He has written his own legendary stand-up routines, as well as screenplays, plays, essays, novels and a memoir. “Bright Star,” his first musical, combines Martin’s experience in writing for various media as well as his talents as a musician. Martin has played the banjo since childhood and he has even won a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. For Martin, musical theater allows him to combine his talents for storytelling and songwriting into one medium.
The musical’s score (Martin wrote the book, Brickell wrote the lyrics and both wrote the music) features plenty of Martin’s famous banjo and generally stands apart from traditional musical theater fare. The duo mixes influences from bluegrass, country, folk and Americana, creating a traditional sound that mostly foregoes modern trends. The production also stands apart through its orchestrations: the ensemble plays live music onstage, completing the live vocals of the cast.
The cast and creative team of “Bright Star” believe that these differences set the show apart and audiences will appreciate the show’s passion and authenticity. The touring company includes some members of the Original Broadway Cast, including Carmen Cusack as Alice Murphy, a role which earned her a Tony Award nomination. Cast member Kaitlyn Davidson plays Lucy Grant, a newspaper employee who serves as a comic relief from some of the musical’s more emotional moments. Davidson said she was drawn to the musical because it has “a heartwarming story…it’s not cynical and it’s hopeful in a time where I think we really need that.” She said that the show can be both a getaway from and a reflection of the world we live in.
“It’s a wonderful escape and journey, but also touches on some very real emotions. The people who come to see our show are so incredibly moved and will share their stories with us. That’s been really fulfilling and encouraging. It’s what theater is about for me: making that connection. I think good theater teaches you something about the world [and] about yourself.”
“Bright Star” will be performed from January 12-27 at Pioneer Theatre Company. Performances will begin at 7:00pm on weekday evenings and 7:30pm on weekend evenings, with an additional matinee at 2:00pm on Saturdays. Visit pioneertheatre.org for ticket prices and more information.