REVIEW: Avon Players’ Season Debut ‘Bright Star’ Radiates Optimism in the Face of Love, Loss, and Longing

Avon Players opens a new season with Bright Star, a musical that takes the audience on a sweeping emotional journey, now through September 24 in Rochester Hills, MI.

Bright Star is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in the mid-1940s, with flashbacks to 1923. While there are dual storylines intertwining throughout the performance, the main plot point belongs to idealistic Alice Murphy (Caitlin O’Brien) and the trajectory of her life from an innocent teenager to a mature, but fragile adult.  

Caitlin O’Brien as Alice Murphy (Center) and the cast of ‘Bright Star give an inspiring performance
Photo courtesy of Avon Players Theatre Facebook

From the first note, Alice sings of the stirring narrative, “If You Knew My Story,” I realized not only was this play going to be good but that I was witnessing something truly special. It was also evident early on that the talent of this show runs deep.

To be honest, Bright Star was never a musical that was on my radar to see, but now that I have, I highly suggest it should be on yours as well. According to Director John (JD) Deierlein, Bright Star has not been performed in the area, which is surprising. But that just means you can take advantage and see what makes this such an extraordinary musical. Another surprising fact is that Bright Star is the result of a collaboration between multi-faceted entertainer Steve Martin (Music, Book & Story) and double-platinum recording artist Edie Brickell (Music, Lyrics & Story). The result is a sentimental story punctuated by buoyant bluegrass and beautiful harmonies that reaches every corner of the theater and is absorbed into your soul. Music Director Ron Pietrantoni and the orchestra did a fabulous job of bringing the tunes to life.

Additional performances that stood out were – “Bright Star,” sung by Billy Cane (Jared (Newt) Newton in his Avon Players’ debut); Asheville,” sung by Margo Crawford (Kailyn Sprinkle); “Sun’s Gonna Shine,” sung by Mama Murphy (Lia DiFonzo), Alice, Florence (Caroline Dargay), Edna (Emily Brown), Daddy Cane (Matt Cason), and Margo.

Adam Wager as Jimmy Ray Dobbs laments the state of his life in Avon Players’ ‘Bright Star.’
Photo courtesy of Avon Players Theatre Facebook

And I would be doing a great disservice if I didn’t mention that the Ensemble — Aaron Barnes, Emily Brown, Jill Blazis-Sloan, Caroline Dargay, Jonathan Farrell, Jonathan Grygiel, Jefferey Monterosso, and Eric Rodman. These actors were not only hardworking but outstanding vocal talents that were a true joy to watch. The choreography by Maritoni Harte also greatly enriches the show and overall experience.

Alice’s journey is shaped, both directly and indirectly, by three men. Her father, Daddy Murphy (Patrick Daniels) a God-fearing man who makes a disturbing decision that forever alters the lives of those around him. Her first love, Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Adam Wager), truly cares for her but isn’t strong enough to stand up to his tyrant father Mayor Josiah Dobbs (Nick Frederick). Frederick played his part so convincingly that I gasped when he did the unthinkable. All these characters are flawed humans, which is what makes them so relatable.

As Lucy Grant in ‘Bright Star,’ Lori Smith is a dame who delightfully dishes up plenty of sass and swagger.
Photo courtesy of Avon Players Theatre Facebook

While Bright Star does have its somber moments, there are also interludes of levity, which bear the distinctive Steve Martin touch. And the two characters that shine the brightest during these occasions are Lucy Grant (Lori Smith) and Daryl Ames (Christiaan Lafata). Sometimes the comedy is subtle, while other times it’s more obvious, and it’s always flat-out funny. The pair reminded me (especially Lafata’s accent) of the characters Karen Walker and Beverly Leslie on “Will & Grace.” Such a delight to watch them interact with each other.

Deierlein hit the mark when he said this show is “about finding your way home, the importance of family in the face of loss, and the power of reunion.” And the opening night audience agreed by giving the cast a rousing standing ovation and enthusiastically clapping along during the final song.  

This show goes in directions I didn’t expect but found extremely endearing. Bright Star is an undervalued gem that deserves to shine and be seen. Life may not take the route we originally imagined it would, but what is lost along the way, somehow manages to find its way back home.

The show runs approximately two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Tickets for all shows are $30. Call 248.608.9077 for tickets or order online at www.AvonPlayers.org.  Discounts on matinee tickets are available for seniors and students; call the box office for details.  Additionally, group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players on Facebook for special offers on tickets. All major credit cards are accepted, and all seats are reserved. 

Remaining show dates and times:

Saturday, Sept 10         8:00 p.m.

Sunday, Sept 11           2:00 p.m.

Friday, Sept 16             8:00 p.m.

Saturday, Sept 17         8:00 p.m.

Sunday, Sept 18           2:00 p.m.

Friday, Sept 23             8:00 p.m.

Saturday, Sept 24        8:00 p.m.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].

Comments

  1. Lindsay Barnes-Sanderson says

    Hi Sarah! Thank you for the article. I do want to say, though, Bright Star has actually been performed in this area, in fact, in 2018 a high school in Waterford performed it for the very first time in the state of Michigan. Waterford Kettering High School performed this amazing musical in November of 2018 and two of their young actors were nominated for Sutton Foster awards, the highest honor for musical theatre in the state. One of those bright young thespians nominated was my son! He played Jimmy Rae Dobbs. My other son was cast as Billy Cane, and together with my youngest who played Max they made a truly unforgettable team. It goes down as my all time favorite musical they have ever performed together. They were MAGIC. I look forward to seeing a performance of this again!

Leave a Reply to Lindsay Barnes-Sanderson Cancel reply

*