The cut-throat world of Broadway musicals takes few prisoners and even with a better-than-expected raft of key Tony nominations, Bright Star was extinguished after just four months of performances. Developed out of a musical collaboration between Steve Martin and Edie Brickell called Love Has Come For You, Bright Star forged its idiosyncratic path of bluegrass and other American roots music with an admirable confidence in bucking the commercial norm.
Taking a risk is always, well, risky though, and though I’m quite partial to a bit of country and always keen to see people pushing the boundaries of musical theatre, the Original Broadway Cast Recording does offer up some clues as to why Bright Star might not have caught fire. There’s no doubting the truthfulness of the music, played with a vast array of finely stringed instruments from banjo to fiddle to autoharp, but adherence to such an authentic song-writing template means you do get a sense of repetitiveness kicking in.
So the shiny brightness of much of the score bleeds into one song after the next and Martin and Brickell seem content to cultivate mood rather than meaning through their music, few of the tracks have genuine narrative drive to them, preferring instead to act as reminders to the plot and offering broad brushstrokes of characterisation rather than any real sense of insight or depth. That said, it’s tough to give a sense of 2 different timelines though music alone, as the show works its dual path.
There are moments when this does happen – Hannah Elless’ ‘Asheville’ is a glorious moment of musical theatre, an all-too-rare instance of when its unique power is harnessed for story-telling good, she also shines in a quiet diet ‘Always Will’ with AJ Shiveley. Bright Star’s stand-out performer is Carmen Cusack though, a Broadway debutant (another risk), expertly navigating an effective path between bluegrass and Broadway, the gently affecting ‘If You Knew My Story’ to the almost gospel fervour ‘At Long Last’.
A strong piece of music then, rather than musical theatre per se, in this format at least. The niche nature of the music means I don’t imagine we’ll see a major production of Bright Star in the UK anytime soon but a fringe production that is allowed to play a little with the show could well be the ticket.
“Love, sweet love…no, not just for some but for everyone”
It’s no secret that Broadway cares but there’s still something extremely touching about a community coming together to help others, especially when it feels close to home. However others want to spin it, the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was an attack on the LGBT+ community and that is something that is just chilling in its cold reality. But from such horror comes something positive too as people rally together to share love and support, solidarity and hope that no matter how dark it gets, we’re never alone.
In London, the LGBT+ community has the Pride in London Parade to spark the coming together over what will be a poignant weekend. And on Broadway, Broadway Records President Van Dean, SiriusXM Radio Host Seth Rudetsky and Producer James Wesley have pulled together a dream choir of amazing performers to record a charity single of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love’ to benefit the Orlando LGBT+ community. Take a look at the video below (and be blown away by such luminaries as Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel and so many more) but I urge you to please buy a copy too, to support this very worthy cause.
And matching Broadway for passionate respect are the London Gay Men’s Chorus. The response to their musical tribute of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ at the Soho vigil for the Orlando victims was such that they have decided to release it as their own charity single (it had originally been intended for their 25th anniversary album later this year, and recorded just hours before the attack took place).
Danielle Brooks – The Color Purple
Carmen Cusack – Bright Star
Khris Davis – The Royale
Daniel Durant – Spring Awakening
Cynthia Erivo – The Color Purple
John Krasinski – Dry Powder
Sarah Charles Lewis – Tuck Everlasting
Austin P. McKenzie – Spring Awakening
Lupita Nyong’o – Eclipsed
Mark Strong – A View From The Bridge
Ana Villafañe – On Your Feet!
Ben Whishaw – The Crucible
Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in the Theater: Nicholas Barasch – She Loves Me
John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre: Bernadette Peters
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Frank Langella, The Father
Gabriel Byrne, Long Day’s Journey into Night
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III
Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey into Night
Laurie Metcalf, Misery
Lupita Nyong’o, Eclipsed
Sophie Okonedo, The Crucible
Michelle Williams, Blackbird
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Leslie Odom, Jr, Hamilton
Alex Brightman, School of Rock
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof
Zachary Levi, She Loves Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Carmen Cusack, Bright Star
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
Reed Birney, The Humans
Bill Camp, The Crucible
David Furr, Noises Off
Richard Goulding, King Charles III
Michael Shannon, Long Day’s Journey into Night
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Pascale Armand, Eclipsed
Megan Hilty, Noises Off
Andrea Martin, Dotty Otley
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress
Jonathan Groff, Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Jennifer Simard, Disaster!
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along