Holly's Bright Star production brings bluegrass to the stage

  • The musical ensemble for the Holly’s production of Bright Star sets the tone of Appalachia in the south for the show, which is set in 1940s North Carolina, with several upbeat dance numbers, like this square dance scene, showcasing the period.
    The musical ensemble for the Holly’s production of Bright Star sets the tone of Appalachia in the south for the show, which is set in 1940s North Carolina, with several upbeat dance numbers, like this square dance scene, showcasing the period.
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Seldom is a story both heart-breaking and uplifting, but the Holly Theater’s production of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star is just that, set to the tune of locally-played bluegrass music.
The Applachain-based musical is set to premiere Friday at 8 p.m.
Bright Star is a heart-wrenching southern tale, based on a true story, of love, hate and miraculous fate of a young and hopeful couple.
“The story is about our lead character, Alice Murphy, and it’s really her story and it’s her story in two time periods, in the 1920s and the 1940s,” Dawn Phipps, director of the play, said. “It’s really about how all of these people have transitioned through her life and about love lost and love found. She has a big momentous event that happens to her in her teen years that really is the trajectory for how the rest of her life plays out.”
With the story progressing 20 years over the course of the play, the main characters
change from young to old, giving the leading roleplayers an extra challenge to play both versions of their characters.
“The differentiation between when I’m playing older Alice and young Alice, I have to switch that really quickly on and off,” Carly Berg said. “It’s definitely challenged me as an actor.”
Her counterpart who plays the role of Jimmy Ray was also up for the challenge.
“It’s fantastic to be able to play something that ranges over 20 years,” Craig Lovell said. “Bringing a youthful energy to the beginning of the show and then a more subtle, older Jimmy Ray to the show towards the end.”
Accurately and convincingly portraying intimacy is often another challenge for lead actors in romanticised plays like Bright Star. But while Berg and Lovell are following their parts on the stage, their relationship off the stage makes the love between their characters less of an act.
“Being in a relationship with the lead actress definitely has its perks when it comes to acting on a stage,” Lovell said. “There’s not much acting going on during those nice scenes so I think it helps both of us.”
“It’s definitely easy to find the chemistry between us,” Berg said. “On stage we’re playing characters and not ourselves but that can easily translate.”
With the story rooted in Appalachia, the Bluegrass music played throughout plays as big of a role as any character. Seeing the importance of music in the play, Phipps opted for a powerful notion, putting a live bluegrass band on stage throughout the entire show.
“There’s an energy that live music brings, that you don’t get in a show that uses tracks,” Phipps said. “To me it’s just a richer, more vivid experience for the audience and this show especially because it’s bluegrass, we said that this show had to be live music.The music is a character, that’s why they’re up for view the whole time. They are the other actor in the show, they’re their own character.”
While the play goes on below, the band hovers above the stage on the second level, setting the tone throughout the show with a mix of upbeat and happy scores that encourages knee slapping, toe tapping and dancing and dark, sad tunes that cause the audience to share in the characters' despair.
“This is one of those things you don’t get a lot in Broadway musicals, is an Appalachian story brought to the stage, so we get to incorporate a lot of local musicians, which is fantastic, into a story that’s so vast and different,” Lovell said. “I think a lot of people are going to love it, just to listen to the musicians that we have, much less the singers that we have on the stage.”
Between the emotion and the setup, Phipps believes this show is truly different from anything the Holly has done in the past.
“Expect to have a theater experience like they’ve never had before, that’s so different and so unique,” she said. “We’re going to break their heart in some parts, but more than anything we’re going to lift them up and they’re going to feel good about the rich relationships they’ve had in their lives.”
The musical debuts on Friday, Oct. 25 and runs for three weekends for a total of 9 shows, with the last show being on Sunday, Nov. 10. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday shows start at 2 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased online at hollytheater.com. The Holly’s production of Bright Star is rated PG-13 due to profanity, adult themes and violence.