|Brenna Wagner in Bright Star (Erik Stuhaug)|
Through August 17, 2019
Steve Martin (yes, that one, the “wild and crazy guy”) and Edie Brickell wrote a feel-good musical that debuted on Broadway at the same time as that juggernaut Hamilton… So, Bright Star got zero attention and closed soon after.
But we, here in Seattle, get to enjoy the fruits of their labor as Taproot brings us their summer musical! The bluegrass music is insanely good and plays a lot throughout. It provides a lot of the great energy of the story of two young people growing up in a small town with some typical barriers to their love. Set in 1923-24 and then jumping forward to 1945-46, these North Carolina young folk have a lot of adults looking at and tut-tutting at their behavior.
Alice (Brenna Wagner) and Jimmy Ray (Brian Pucheu) find that they like each other’s spark and gumption. Jimmy Ray appreciates Alice’s desire to go to college and make something of herself. But falling in love doesn’t mean they get to choose what their futures look like.
There’s Jimmy Ray’s privileged and only-business-matters father (Eric Polani Jensen), the mayor of the town, who has stacks of female resumes of local businesses that should be good to marry with. And Alice’s parents (Edd Key and Connie Corrick) aren’t so encouraging, either, of Alice’s future plans.
Then there’s the problem they face when their love produces a baby faster than their stubbornness can produce a marriage. Their nascent family is torn apart before it begins.
But jump forward in time, and we see that Alice has become a hard-bitten newswoman in a large town and a young man longs to be published. Billy (Mike Spee) also comes from a small town and perhaps reminds her of her younger self. We’re shown his small town family and the young woman that keeps the candle lit in her heart for him (Miranda Antoinette Troutt).
The production is full of great talent including comic moments from Gloria Lee Alcala, Brian Lange and MJ Jurgensen. It’s a large cast and an embarrassment of riches for director Karen Lund to manage. Lund’s mastery of her theater configuration and her sure experience keeps the musical humming.
The small band, upstage from the action, is music directed by both the talented RJ Tancioco and Michael Nutting. Occasionally, some versatile cast members also play more instruments. A few key moments of song are choreographed by Katy Tabb with sweet, low key choreography that doesn’t over-power the feel of the musical.
It’s a lot of story, but it’s not as hard to follow as it is to describe. Wagner has a very large job as her character drives all the storylines and she has several enormous solos. Thankfully, her gorgeous voice and charming manner are more than up to it.
It really is a lovely choice for the summer. While it’s family-friendly, it might be a little emotionally difficult for children under about 12 or so to cope with teen pregnancy and the idea of having a child taken from its parents. However, you can bet that there’s an upbeat ending.