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JACK WEATHERLY — ‘Bright Star’ shines at the New Stage

JACK WEATHERLY

Steve Martin met someone at a cocktail party who wanted to compliment him on his play about Picasso meeting Einstein.

It was “goo . . . RATE,” the partygoer said, avoiding damning Martin with faint praise.

The legendary comedian, actor, banjoist and playwright’s latest stage effort, “Bright Star,” as presented by New Stage Theater in Jackson is goo . . . RATE as well.

In this case, good with great aspects.

The musical, which debuted on Broadway a few years ago, was more than theatergoers could consume in the scheduled dates.

So it was extended four days, Thursday through Saturday of this week at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

That’s the best encore an ensemble could ask for.

The story is about a days-old infant stuffed into a suitcase and thrown from a train and discovered by a farmer in the mountains of North Carolina.

The play is based on a story with some basis in fact.

And Martin and collaborator Edie Brickell captured the pathos, and music, in this fantasy that never loses its grasp of reality.

Set in the 1940s, with flashbacks to the 1920s, it transcends those epochs, with hints of issues of this one.

Our grasp of reality is at issue, with some even arguing for termination of full-term infants.

The taking of the newborn, in the case of “Bright Star,” is not the mother’s choice. The out-of-wedlock boychild is torn from her arms presumably to be given up for adoption.

Then the near-tragedy occurs.

Without giving away the eventual outcome, it is safe to say that this is ultimately a heart-warming tale.

Carried by Martin and Brickell’s Americana music, it is alternately toe-tapping and soul-wrenching.

Clearly the star of “Bright Star” is Sari Koppel as Alice Murphy, who rises into the Southern literary firmament as a book editor of the fictive Asheville Southern Journal, a champion of region that rose to cultural prominence despite, and because of, its downtrodden state in the first hundred years after its devastation during the Civil War.

This is Thomas (You Can’t Go Home Again) Wolfe country and era. Wolfe – whose first love was play writing — was born and buried in Asheville, the Oxford, Miss. of North Carolina, dying at age 37.

The aspiring writer in this work, Billy Cane, hounds the Journal till it finally gives him his break.

And much more than that.

This play, is directed by Francine Thomas Reynolds, and the music is shaped by Carol Joy Sparkman, who also handles the keyboards in the five-member band (with banjo, Martin’s instrument of choice in one of his other lives, which includes this touring and recording group, Steep Canyon Rangers, with Brickell.)

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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About Jack Weatherly