Bright Star was composed by comedian Steve Martin and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell. Martin, who is an avid banjo player, has quipped, "the easiest way to become a successful Broadway composer is to first be famous for something else."
The music is definitely bluegrass in style, and yet is also a genuine, exciting, romantic and dramatic Broadway musical. The on-stage band is comprised of two keyboards, fiddle, violin, viola, bass, cello and percussion. The sound is unique in musical theater.
Even people who wouldn't otherwise claim to enjoy bluegrass music (including the writer of these very words) have fallen madly in love with Bright Star.
The show's run on Broadway opened on March 24, 2016, starring Carmen Cusack (photo) as Alice Murphy. That production was nominated for five Tony awards and eight Drama Desk awards, winning for Outstanding Music.
New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood wrote of Bright Star:
"The musical is gentle-spirited, not gaudy, and moves with an easygoing grace where others prance and strut. And it tells a sentiment-spritzed story...that you might be more likely to encounter in black and white, flickering from your flat-screen on Turner Classic Movies.... The songs boast simple but seductive melodies, and lyrics that have a sweet, homespun quality."
The story of Bright Star begins in 1923, in Zebulon, North Carolina, and ends in 1946, in nearby Asheville. We see many of the characters at two critical points in their lives.
It's a love story, of course. Isn't every Broadway musical, at its core, a love story?
The action moves back and forth between the languid, peaceful pre-Depression days of the mid 1920s, and the optimistic post-war era. During this time, some of our characters grow up; others recover from sorrow and settle into a life of work and emptiness. Still others struggle to see their ambitions for their children realized.
And then, at the end of Act II, a secret is revealed, separated lovers have a reunion, and everybody sings "The Sun is Gonna Shine Again..."