“Bright Star” – A Masterpiece for all the senses. 5-Stars
By George Dixon.
Chapel of Chapel provides the intimate surroundings for this new Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Broadway collaboration “Bright Star”.
Hats off to Pursued By Bear” productions for presenting such a vibrant real-life based story, of life, love and redemption.
Set in the North American South between the 1920s and ’40s. The layback happy bluegrass music of its era, complete with fiddle and banjo, was totally infectious; the audience could not help participating, with hand-clapping, foot-tapping and applauses of appreciation of the music and energetic dance routines, which presented a reflection of simpler and happy times.
This feel-good musical will undoubtedly bring out all of the emotions as the story unfolds.
The opening number “If you knew my story” sung by Kala Gare as Alice, along with the full ensemble, sets the scene and tone of the two storylines, of young love and past regrets.
And an inspiring young writer Billy played by Callum O’Malley returning from the war, determined to follow his dream of being published. The storylines between the young and older Alice are clearly defined throughout the play.
This two-part play is wonderfully constructed with a stunning end to the first part, which provides for some chatter during the interval time.
The second half expands on the various coincidences, which happened and develop earlier; providing opportunities for redemption, renewed love, new love, along with various dreams and hopes realised. Concluding with a high energy finale, having everyone in the audience feeling good and rising to a full house standing ovation; being completely satisfied with an outstanding performance which has touched all of the senses.
The creative team of Mark Taylor – Director, Nathan Firmin – Musical Director and Fray List – Choreographer; have excelled in the development of this wonderful production.
Working with an open stage can, at times, be troublesome. It was not the case here, the balance and use of music, dance and the fount of house interactions between Violin/Fiddle played by Ruby Clark, and Banjo played by Anthony Craig, along with the Choreographed movements of the ensemble who repositioned apple crates, to create the various alterations required for each scene flowed naturally in perfect timing.
Sara Tullochs Set design was extremely clever, the use of apple crates which became, bookcases, seats, tables, a bar, and other items highlighted what can be done and transformed by the use of simplicity.
It was a pleasure to witness the flawless transformations, happening with such ease, joy and mechanical precision, so that the lighting positions maintained their integrity.
The ten-piece on stage band, while positioned back of stage, could be seen, so there was no place to hide, not that they needed to, each musician was clearly having a blast, enjoying the production and creating an exciting array of music, to the extent that they continued playing to the delight of the audience after the curtain call.
Jodi Hope – Costume Design has completed the complete wardrobe with a strong eye for detail, colour, patterns and materials that not only suited the 1920-40s but each of the characters and their timelines including hats, uniforms, country and city clothing and the hairstyles for Alice, as she ages and develops over the 20 year span, all of which added to the authenticity of the story.
Ashleigh Walwyn – Stage Manager executed the flow of cast efficiently, especially the quick scenes and costume changes underwent by Gare, this was a well-oiled production.
Sound Design and Operation on the night was completed by William Yates, who masterfully balanced the live music and vocals, each dialogue was clearly presented, while once or twice I felt some of the offstage sound effects to be a little overpowering, all the same, it did not distract from the overall production.
The lighting design by Mungo Trumble provided the impressive light and shade to each scene, be it outside with swampish mist, to the library with its bookcases or in the publishers’ office. The level and creativity added to the productions atmosphere.
The creative team have masterfully put together a cast of super-talented performers, who not only provided realistic characters that produced an enormous amount of energy.
It was also clear that every cast member was having such a lot of fun between themselves; for me, their expressions and looks during the dance routines became infectious.
Kala Gare (Alice Murphy) was perfect for this role, Gare, portrayed the young Alice, with her youthfulness, unconventional thinking and cheekiness, with open arms, wide eyes, and a huge smile, balanced with the pain and emotional tears, which come along in her story.
To the transformation as the older, more sophisticated Alice, is in stark contrast, smartly dressed, shoulders back, city attitude and business demeanour, showcases Gares expressional talent. At times the transformation happens within a musical number as the ensemble re-adjusts the apple boxes to form the publisher’s office.
Callum O’Malley (Billy Cane) played the young man, home from the war and determined to follow his dream, to be a published writer, was performed impressively, with southern style and mannerisms, along with at times boyish excitement, reserved and well brought up, provided a realistic image of a homecoming boy who had done his country proud.
The duet “She’s Gone” with Daddy Cane (Tom Blair) was one of the emotional musical highlights of the evening, the harmony and heartache expressed drew applause even though the song was a reflection of the loss of Billy’s mother while he was at war.
Sarah Krndija (Margo Crawford) was captivating in the role, expressing Margo, small-town young women, charmed by the etiquette of the day; the part allows for comic expressions and looks as she tries to court Billy, who is somewhat naive and blind to her advances.
Krndija’s timing and facial expressions brought delight to the audience.
The complete cast deserve a mention, as all of them are so talented, and professional in their performances, a special mention to Mike Gardiner (Major Dobbs) who superbly plays the villain, with the haunting song “A man’s Gotta Do” which becomes a duet with Matthew Prime (Jimmy Ray Dobbs, (the son)) which depicts the general state of mind and justification during those times. The song is reprised at the end of the first act, which hammers home, the rationale for one’s actions. Gardiner’s facial expression, of the horror which has been committed, has everyone gasping. A fantastic and somewhat fitting end to the first act. At the curtain call, people didn’t know whether to appalled because the craftsmanship was so excellent or to “boo” because he was such a good villain. Gardiner accepted both, as recognition of the performance.