There’s a certain comfort, sometimes, when you walk into a theater to see a show you’ve seen again and again and are intimately familiar with.
You know the songs, you know the plot, and you end up humming along, much to the chagrin of the people sitting next to you.
But there’s a bit of excitement when what you’re seeing is new to you. You have no idea what to expect, and the plot is a surprise to you.
“Bright Star” falls into the latter category for me, and I dare say it’s new to a good portion of the audiences who are seeing it right now at Red Mountain Theatre.
What I did know is this: It’s a musical written by comedian Steve Martin and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell.
What I didn’t know is this: It’s a touching if convoluted tale, following love stories in both the 1920s and 1940s in rural North Carolina.
What didn’t surprise me at all was this: RMT’s production is first rate, with top-notch performances, wonderful sets and a heartfelt delivery that will lead you to shed a few tears.
What can be said about the plot is that it follows two couples – Alice and Jimmy Ray in the 1920s and Billy and Margo in the 1940s. Alice ends up being editor of a prestigious literary journal in Asheville, and Billy, an aspiring writer, is one her protegees.
To say any more would be a disservice, because “Bright Star” is filled with twists and turns and surprises. Suffice it to say it’s funny and heartbreaking and heartwarming and dramatic over the course of its two-and-a-half hours.
It’s also a bit confusing as it jumps from decade to decade, signaled only by the characters involved in the scene and what they’re wearing. It’s not too puzzling, but it’s puzzling enough that when most scenes change, it’ll take you a second to figure out whether you’re in the ‘20s or the ‘40s.
Key to both of them is Alice Murphy, and boy did RMT find a spitfire in Kelli Dodd to play her. Alice gets the bulk of the bring-the-house down numbers, and Dodd has an extremely powerful voice, especially tackling Act II’s climactic “At Long Last.”
All of the leads are well cast, including Jessie Kisor as Jimmy Ray, Davis Haines as Billy Cane and Kristen Bowden as Margo Crawford. Fans of RMT already know they can sing, but they’re called upon to do some pretty strong acting here, too, and they deliver.
Much the same can be said of the supporting cast, including Kyle Holman as Jimmy Ray’s father (and mayor of the town), Dennis McLernon and Regina Harbour as Alice’s parents and Scott Stewart as Billy’s father.
Amy E. Johnson and Anastas Varinos provide welcome comic relief as Alice’s assistants at the literary journal. Both have impeccable comic timing, and just when you think you’re not going to get to hear Johnson sing in a show, the two, along with Haines, bring down the house with “Another Round” in Act II.
Members of the ensemble deserve mention, too, as they leap and flip and bound across the stage to execute director/choreographer Roy Lightner’s lively and exciting dances. They are Terrance Campbell, Michael Cleary, Briana Hernandez, Hannah Kuykendall, Allie Nichols, Troy Serena, Bria J. Tyner, Blake West, Madeleine Kate Erwin and Will Bryant Vickers.
Music director Katie Holmes and her band are integral to “Bright Star,” setting the tone for Brickell and Martin’s bluegrass-infused score, and Cliff Simon’s lush set, complemented by Keith A. Truax’s moody lighting and Kendra Weeks’ period costumes, complete the package.
And it’s a fine package, even if it’s a bit hard to follow at times. In the end, the payoff is well worth the periodic muddle.
“Bright Star” runs through April 16 at Red Mountain Theatre.