Monday, June 17, 2024

Broadway Review: Steve Martin, Edie Brickell Score A Hit with Bluegrass “Bright Star”


So yes a star studded crowd came to see what Steve Martin and Edie Brickell have been up to for the last three years with “Bright Star.” Their bluegrass Broadway musical finally opened, directed by Walter Bobbie, music supervised by Peter Asher.

And the good news it’s all good news. The songs are lush and catchy, the performers are spot on. The show has a real star in Carmen Cusack, who — if you closed your eyes– could be a country superstar from Nashville. In fact, if “Nashville” comes back to TV this fall, the shows should cross-promote.

“Bright Star” however is set in and around Asheville, North Carolina just after World War II ends, and also about 23 years earlier. The people dress like they’re in “The Waltons.” There’s a lot of flannel, a lot of gingham, hats, gloves, fussy old fashioned furniture. It’s the world of Thomas Wolfe, and Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty. The whole thing could be a novel from Algonquin Books.

Luckily. the songs are strong given Steve Martin’s banjo interests of the last 40 years and Edie Brickell’s ability to write hooks (go back to her lovely albums with the New Bohemians– they are full of gems). Plus Steve has taken the sometimes on-the-nose story and peppered it with enough humor to lighten the gloom that threatens to overcome the proceedings like a storm cloud but never does.

Oh yes, the audience: Paul Simon (Mr. Brickell) was present, as was Paul Shaffer, Diane Sawyer, director Barry Levinson, Steve and Jo Buscemi, Joel Grey, and Andrea Martin. Plus, there was value added– Howard Stern and wife Beth took aisle seats. And even more value added– famed artist Eric Fischl, as well as New York’s most important art patron, Agnes Gund, and art critic Peter Schjeldahl. Yes, Agnes Gund. That kicked our little Broadway world up several notches.

But back to the show: we know Steve Martin can play banjo and write music in his sleep. But Edie Brickell went into low profile mode after she married Paul Simon in the early 90s. What a pleasure to have her back. A lot of the songs in “Bright Star” are eminently hummable and should be covered by real country stars. “Always Will,” “Asheville,” and “At Long Last” are all hits.

The cast is top notch, from Carmen Cusack to the much too modest Dee Hoty. Paul Alexander Nolan is one of Cusack’s two leading men– he comes to us from “Dr. Zhivago” and A.J. Shively hold up their end for the guys admirably. Emily Padgett kind of steals the show in the supporting category– too bad she’ll have to go up against Jane Krakowski and Jennifer Hudson this year at the awards shows. That will be a hot category.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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