The Charleston Light Opera Guild’s latest performance, “Bright Star,” has what theater-goers expect: love, romance, humor, tragedy and a happy ending that encompasses all the major characters. It was fun to watch and enjoyable from start to finish.
The show was co-written by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) and Eddie Brickell, originally of the band The New Bohemians. The pair has worked together for several years, including recording two roots music albums together. Martin wrote the story and the dialogue and Brickell wrote the lyrics for the songs. They collaborated on the music.
With Martin’s involvement you might expect to watch a comedy, and there are certainly plenty of laugh lines, but “Bright Star” is a drama with lost love, tragedy and redemption. The program notes that it was inspired by a true story.
Folk music enthusiasts might know the song “The Ballad of the Iron Mountain Baby” from 1902 or contemporary music fans may know “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby” by Brickell and Martin. “Bright Star” was inspired by that tale, but I can’t tell you any more about it, because it would give away a major plot point in the show. The story takes that kernel of a story and builds an entirely new tale.
Alice Murphy, played by Sarah Golden, is a stern literary editor in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1946. She meets a young man who has just returned from World War II with dreams of being a writer. The young writer is Billy Cane, played by Dakota Burdette. He is so focused on his dream he doesn’t realize the chance he has for love in front of him at home.
The story is told in two periods: 1923 to 1924 and 1945 to 1946. The main story is in the post-war era with flashbacks to the ’20s. It is also an Appalachian tale, shifting locations between Hayes Creek, Asheville, Zebulon and Raleigh, North Carolina.
The show uses a minimal set and costume changes to signal the shifts in time and location, so if you go, scan through the program before the show starts to get an idea of what’s happening. If you don’t, you might wonder why Alice is suddenly brightly dressed with her long hair down.
The love interests are Jimmy Ray Dobbs for Alice, played by Scott Jarrell, and Margo Crawford, played by Elaina Smith, for Billy. The four main characters sang, danced and entertained throughout. Alice was in nearly every scene and deserves praise for keeping it all straight as her character shifted back and forth.
There are a couple scenes that are emotional, including one near the end of Act I that is disturbing. It is a terrible situation and was portrayed much like you would expect it to go in real life. Just be forewarned if you go.
The entire ensemble cast did a good job moving sets, singing, providing sound effects and rushing from one costume change to the next. They made it easy to sit back and enjoy the show.
Shows remaining for Bright Star are today at 3 p.m., June 21, 22, 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. and again on June 30 at 3 p.m.
All shows are at the Charleston Light Opera Guild Theatre at the corner of Roane Street and Tennessee Avenue on Charleston’s West Side. Tickets are $25.