Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Bright Star
Florida Studio Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Rigoletto

Meredith Meredith Jones and Blake Price
Photo by Matthew Holler
Not every musical is right for a big Broadway run or even an Off-Broadway one. Bright Star, by Steve Martin (music and book) and Edie Brickell (music and lyrics), in a lovely production by Florida Studio Theatre, seems to be one of those. It played The Cort Theatre on Broadway, seating capacity 1082, and with a cast of 24, which can be reduced to as few as 10 as it is here, but 12-16 seems the ideal number. The emotional impact of the story may lose focus when it gets too big. In the 237-seat Gompertz Theatre, it retains all the desired intimacy. Also, the strongly Southern feel of the story and its bluegrass-infused score may have been a mismatch with the sophistication of New York City. This is not the only work that has faced this problem. Steven Schwartz' fine musical based on the stories of the Garden of Eden and Noah and the ark, Children of Eden, has never received a full production in New York. That piece just seems a better fit for regional and community theaters where the participation of lots of children and the looseness that brings are not a hindrance.

Bright Star interweaves the stories of two romantic couples. Inspired in part on the true story of the "Iron Mountain Baby," the musical has the ingredients for good musical comedy. Tears came to my eyes several times, and that is fine with me. I was thoroughly engaged with the lives of the central characters.

In the starring role of Alice Murphy, Meredith Jones gives a luminous performance, equally at home playing 20-year-old Alice and also 23 years later. Blake Price plays Jimmy Ray Dobbs, the boy Alice loves and would have married but for parental interference. Price is a strong leading man, looking fine and singing even better. Max Meyers is Billy Cane, drawn to Ashley Rose as Margo, our second couple. His is the strongest male role in the cast and he inhabits it well. Michael Grieve as Daryl Ames (and other roles) and Rachel Mulcahy as Lucy Grant are the comedy couple and audience pleasers. Her violin playing is wonderful. Travis Mitchell plays the villain, Mayor Dobbs, and uses his powerful bass to very good effect. D.C. Anderson, Mimi Bessette, and William Selby are parental figures as well as other minor characters.

Under the direction of Kate Alexander, with choreography by Ellie Mooney, the production moves fluidly with some really nice stagecraft along the way. Bright Star is not a dance-heavy show, but the cast performs what is required of them effectively. The scenic design by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay is up there with much of their very best work, which means it's a major contributing factor to this a production being one to cherish. Kathleen Geldard's costume design is period effective, but not especially lavish. A few extra costume changes for the major characters would have been welcome. Lighting design by Nick Jones and sound design by Thom Korp are top notch.

The score, under the capable hands of music director Paul Helm, is Bright Star's glory. The band is terrific and gets assists from cast members D.C. Anderson (guitar), Mimi Bessette (mandolin), Michael Grieve (second banjo), and the already mentioned Rachel Mulcahy on violin.

I'm thrilled that Bright Star is making its Florida regional premiere in such a fine production. It is a darned good musical, and good regional theaters are where this charmer will prove its merit. Musical theater fans, don't miss this one, it's a joy!

Bright Star runs through January 3, 2020, at Florida Studio Theatre, Gompertz Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit

Cast (in alphabetical order): Daddy Murphy: D.C. Anderson*
Mana Murphy, Florence, Clerk: Mimi Bessette*
Daryl Ames, Max, Doctor :Michael Grieve
Alice Murphy: meredith Jones*
Billy Cane: Max Meyers*
Mayor Dobbs: Travis Mitchell*
Lucy Grant, Edna: Rachel Mulcahy
Jimmy Ray Dobbs: Blake Price*
Margo, Well Dressed Woman: Ashley Rose*
Daddy Cane, Stanford: William Selby*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association

Band (in alphabetical order):
Banjo, Mandolin: Howie Banfield
Guitar: Chuck Davis
Piano/Conductor: Paul Helm
Upright Bass: Kroy Presley