COHOES, NY – Most people know comedian Steve Martin as a “wild, crazy guy.” Many others know him as a world class banjo player.
But who knew he was a sentimental songwriter and playwright?
The secret is out because “Bright Star,” the musical he co-created with pop singer Edie Brickell, playing at Cohoes Music Hall through Feb. 13, is a sweet, sweet story filled with sentimental tenderness.
The story takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, it takes place in the mid 1940s just after World War II. There are flashbacks to 1923. It’s almost impossible to say too much about the plot of the story without ruining the play’s conclusion. The characters all have secrets, but the musical holds little mystery.
I doubt many in the audience wouldn’t suspect the play’s happy ending, but the story isn’t the point of watching the show. The reason to attend “Bright Star” is for the beautiful music, quality acting, and clever staging of a loving and sweet musical.
Although the story engages you, it is perhaps the weakest part of the production. In its simplest form, it’s kind of a story between boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy becomes girl with a lot in between. And I mean a lot of things. In today’s world of 90-minute production, a two-act show that takes 2.5 hours to perform seems bloated.
Indeed, to describe the life of the central figure, Alice Murphy, you would think you are seeing the saddest musical of all time. Which is not true. “Bright Star” is not a depressing show. Instead, it’s a room filled with tender, dark emotions. And because the production is excellent, you rarely say to yourself “Can’t we continue? »
It’s that if the narration is fragile, the music is a pure pleasure. The list of fascinating sincere numbers is too long to list. Martin and Brickell are almost weird about how they get a character’s emotions expressed in song.
The majority of these beautiful ballads are sung by Molly Rose McGrath who delivers a wonderful performance as Alice. Whether it’s a young girl whose life has been destroyed by dominating parents, or as the editor of a prestigious literary journal, or a woman whose life has been returned, McGrath finds the power of the moment with every song she sings.
Alice has a grueling journey and McGrath keeps her grounded in every situation. Whether it’s the beautiful music or the sensitive lyrical interpretations, McGrath captures the moment.
The music for the show is of the Bluegrass genre, which provides an opportunity for great ensemble work. Director Michael LoPorto keeps his large cast on stage all the time, so they bring excitement to the happiest moments and provide serious focus to songs that offer personal revelations.
And if there are any raves to hand out, the 8-piece band, fronted by Brian Axford, gets them all. They should be booked for a gig of their own when “Bright Star” wraps up its run. They are fantastic.
It’s not a one-woman show. Any cast that includes Aaron Holbritter, Marc Christopher, Brandon Jones, Shawn Morgan, and Dashira Cortes means every supporting role will serve the ensemble. And the quality actors make the most of every scene.
As a loyal but weak young man, Jimmy Ray Dobbs, played by Matthew Dembling, makes a good romantic foil for Alice, especially after growing up. Daniel Jameson is an innocent Billy Cane, a young man with literary aspirations. Emma Alteri is a charming Margo who secretly has a crush on Billy.
The latter two are products of the Playhouse Student Program, and several background performers are part of the same program, which says a lot about the future of local theater.
“Bright Star” speaks eloquently of the current level of musical theater. It continues through February 13 at Cohoes Music Hall. For tickets and schedule information, call (518) 434-0776 or visit playhousestage.org. Proof of vaccination is required to enter and masks must be worn inside.
There are shows from socially distant seats on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons.