A “Bright Star” of Broadway Shines Just As Bright on Tour in SF

by Kevin M. Thomas, @ReelKev

Bright Star
From Grammy and Emmy winner Steve Martin and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, Edie Brickell comes this hopeful and heart-swelling new musical, directed by Tony winner Walter Bobbie. Don’t miss this powerful reminder that even in the darkest sky, there’s always one… Bright Star.
Carmen Cusack reprises the role of Alice, which she originated in Bright Star’s world premiere production, and will be joined by co-stars Paul Alexander Nolan, Tony Award nominee Michael Mulheren, A.J. Shively, Hannah Elless, Tony Award nominee Stephen Bogardus, three-time Tony Award nominee Dee Hoty, Stephen Lee Anderson, Emily Padgett, Tony Award nominee Jeff Blumenkrantz, along with Maddie Shea Baldwin, Allison Briner, Max Chernin, Patrick Cummings, Sandra DeNise, Richard Gatta, Lizzie Klemperer, Michael X. Martin, William Michals, Tony Roach, Sarah Jane Shanks and William Youmans.

The closest one can get to Broadway is to see the touring version of the Tony-nominated musical “Bright Star,” which has made a stop at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre and playing only through Dec. 17.
This production has many of the same cast members from New York including two of the leads including Tony-nominee Carmen Cusack. Between the spectacular performances, same set design and staging, you might feel transported to Broadway until you realize you’re in the comfortable and stylish renovated SF Curran.
“Bright Star” is a resilient story that spans 22 years and still has the emotional punch that it had on Broadway. Following the character Alice, played by Cusack, as she goes from a smart and witty young woman to a more sarcastic and scarred adult. But as Alice sings in the show’s first song, “If You Knew My Story,” we will all learn she has a tale of her heaven and her hell. 

In her Broadway debut, I instantly fall in love with Cusack. A lot of it had to do with her towering voice but also in part to her southern delivery, reminding me of the intelligence and wit of TV’s Julia Sugarbaker from “Designing Women.”

When I heard Cusack was touring with her co-star A.J. Shively, I was ready to jump on a plane to Los Angeles, where it started its tour. I was delighted to know that I can save my travel money and see it at home in San Francisco. 

I remember my newfound love of Cusack, but this second viewing reminded me of how she can change from sassy and smart teen to seasoned and professional businesswoman in a matter of seconds. Sometimes she has only a moment backstage to change her appearance for flashbacks 22 years.
Cusack’s love interest is now played by Patrick Cummings who had a smaller role on Broadway and now has his chance to prove he is deserving of the promotion as he makes a fine, sexy leading man who can match Cusack in the emotionally draining story.
It’s refreshing to see the third lead, Shively, still in his role. Even though it was on Broadway just last year, it is great that he was available to recreate the part. He plays a young writer who bonds with publisher Cusack and has an equally compelling story of his own.
With a story from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, you can hear their voice in the bluegrass songs. But the story is nothing like anything Martin has done. It has many moments of his wit and humor, but this is a tale of secrets that are buried deep inside and deals with a caste system in which people from both sides of the tracks make life-changing decisions.
The songs of Martin and Brickell are great at advancing the story and are memorable on their own. As the show also deals with hope, healing, and patience, the songs help each actor reach their emotional core without having to overact or emote. 
It’s rare when a show that has already been on Broadway can not only remain its excellent quality while on the road but to keep up the stamina and energy especially one that is likely draining for its cast. But “Bright Star” is a bright star in the theatre world. It engulfs you in its story, keeps your attention with its songs and connects you with its performances.
If in the Bay Area, go to www.sfcurran.com/shows/bright-star /. Don’t delay as the show is here until Dec. 17.  For our readers around the nation, here’s the current tour schedule of “Bright Star”: http://www.playbill.com/article/see-where-the-bright-star-national-tour-will-play