SALT LAKE CITY — “Bright Star” is storytelling at its finest.
And the Broadway musical, currently on the third stop of its national tour in Salt Lake City at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, is even better on the road.
Since leaving the Great White Way, the Steve Martin/Edie Brickell story is stronger, the songs are more polished and the actors (many of whom have been performing with this production since its first early workshops in 2013) are more settled into their characters.
“Bright Star” was largely overshadowed on Broadway during its short run. The season was incredibly crowded that year, with several new, original musicals opening, including the new national obsession, “Hamilton.”
Set in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1920s and ’40s, "Bright Star" tells the story of Alice Murphy (Tony nominee Carmen Cusack), a literary editor who meets a young soldier who awakens the longing for a child she once lost.
Haunted by their unique connection, Alice sets out on a journey to understand her past — and what she finds has the power to transform both of their lives.
The story of love and redemption resonated with the opening night audience. The crowd leapt to its feet as soon as the curtain closed, whooping and hollering with delight (many with tears streaming down their faces). It was unlike any other standing ovation I’ve seen in Salt Lake City.
No one received more cheers than the star, Carmen Cusack.
Her raw, emotional, youthful and playful performance of a precocious teen turned literary editor is not to be missed. With powerhouse vocals, charm and wit, she deserved the Tony nomination for this challenging role.
To tell a story with major jumps in time can often prove difficult, but “Bright Star” director Walter Bobbie handled it seamlessly. With simple choreography and an on-stage costume change, Cusack transformed into a precocious teen right before the audience's eyes.
Cusack's strong performance was backed by "Bright Star's" other theatrical elements, with Josh Rhodes’ choreography subtly complementing the narrative and Eugene Lee’s scenic design, though simple, perfect for the story. It included a movable wooden cabin that transformed into several North Carolina locales. The cabin also housed the live band, where the musicians essentially functioned as actors on stage, with fiddler Martha McDonnell playing a central role in moving the story forward.
These elements created an unforgettable theatrical experience.Comment on this story
“Bright Star” will be in Salt Lake through Jan. 27, when Cusack will take her final bow in the role that made her a star. Cusack originated the role of Alice Murphy in early workshops of the Martin/Brickell musical and led “Bright Star” eight shows a week throughout its Broadway run. But when the show closed, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the role that made her a star, so she went on tour.
Cusack's love for the role is Utah's gain, giving theater fans in the Beehive State the rare chance to see a Broadway star on a local stage. She is brilliant as Alice, and this story — although unbelievable — makes you want to believe in redemption and love. So, move over “Hamilton” — “Bright Star" is the theatrical event of the Utah season you’ve never heard of, but won't forget anytime soon.
Content advisory: The story is raw and emotional, with themes of teen pregnancy.