It ain’t Bluegrass , but it is darned good entertainment! “Bight Star” is a near perfect play with straight-forward words and music, but at it’s core it is a story as old as humanity. It is the story told by the Greeks and perfected for the English language (although copied from the Greeks) by Shakespeare.
On the first level, it is an old-fashioned love story with love found, love interrupted, unexpected tragedy…thoughtful interval… and then LOVE REGAINED… and the “Tragedy” not quite so. Even without trying, you could begin to think you may have heard a similar story long ago….something about the Bull Rushes, perhaps, although, right about that particular moment in the play, I began to hear in my mind’s ear, “A handbag, a handbag, is not a proper Mother……”
(You may have to look up that reference, but I mustn’t give away that much.)
On the second level there’s this MUSIC, real music that we can love because, like all great folk poetry and song, the words don’t always sparkle on the page but need the magic of strings and perfect harmony by skilled singers.
About this MUSIC! A small band (mostly piano, banjo, fiddle/violin and guitar), semi-hidden in an all purpose see-through cabin/shack/house, is exactly right for the straightforward songs. The singers, not always perfect but nearly so…are perfect in their roles.
The star (Carmen Cusack) is, of course, the heroine, and she IS perfect – in song and in her many manifestations of age, personas and eras she has to portray, often with miraculous thirty-second costume changes – from young girl to be-speckled editor, with severe hair drawn back.
When the band is brought out front at the beginning of the second act, I get my glimpse of the young Banjo picker (Max Grossman) and his instrument, a long, long, open-backed beauty that I’ll have to try to identify somehow….that thing produces the clearest, most beautiful soft sounds!
The young lady (Martha McDonnell) with her magic fiddle – violin to most of the audience, but we know better, don’t we – is a marvel! Her fiddle and Grossman’s banjo are working continuously throughout nearly every moment of the show. It is difficult to describe the precision….the fine and intricate work they do throughout two plus hours! Even when playing softly, one can hear the clear tinkle of super-clean work being performed by people who know what they are doing and what is the music is expected o do.
On the third level is the energetic staging and a cute little train that chugs along overhead.
A bonus, and something the management of the Curran Theatre has been doing throughout the pre-production and production of “Bright Star, are the different bluegrass bands invited to perform in the lobby before each show. On the night I attended, I found that the great music was being performed by a make-up band which had never played together. There had been a cancelation and one known picker was asked to gather a band and he did! I have to say the Dobro player stole the show, although the beautiful banjo picker with the cowboy hat held the eyes of most of us.
After each performance, the “Bright Star” Band moves to the lobby to perform for departing audience members.
New York audiences loved this show, and I can see why. In fact it was nominated for Best-Musical that year but ran up against a phenomenon called “HAMILTON.”
The respected San Francisco Critic was less enthusiastic about this touring show, and I’m not sure why. There are a few more performances here.
It is running at the Curran Theatre on Geary in San Francisco.