Bright Star

Te Auaha, Tapere Nui, 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington

17/11/2023 - 25/11/2023

Production Details

Music, Book, and Story by Steve Martin
Music, Lyrics, and Story by Edie Brickell
Presented by arrangement with Origin Theatrical on behalf of Theatrical Rights Worldwide, New York.
Director: Stanford Reynolds
Music Director: Michael Stebbings
Choreography: Melanie Heaphy

The Wellington Footlights Society

Step into the world of folklore and romance with this captivating bluegrass musical inspired by the timeless Iron Mountain Baby folk story. Join us on a journey that weaves together two extraordinary love stories, intricately connected in a way that will warm your heart and move your soul.

Written by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) and Edie Brickell, and with a Tony nominated score, Bright Star tells a sweeping tale of love and redemption set against the rich backdrop of the American South in the 1920s and ’40s. When literary editor Alice Murphy meets a young soldier just home from World War II, she sets out on a journey to understand her past,and what she finds has the power to transform both of their lives. With beautiful melodies and powerfully moving characters, the story unfolds as a rich tapestry of deep emotion. An uplifting theatrical journey that holds you tightly in its grasp, BRIGHT STAR is as refreshingly genuine as it is daringly hopeful.

Te Auaha
65 Dixon Street
17-18, 21-25 November 2023 at 7.30pm
19 November 2023 at 2.00pm
Tickets $35 (waged) $30 (unwaged) $28 (Groups of 6+)

Alice Murphy – Cassandra Tse
Jimmy Ray Dobbs – Chris McMillan
Billy Cane – Fynn Bodley-Davies
Margo Crawford – Nadia Newman
Mayor Josiah Dobbs – Mike Bryant
Lucy Grant – Kirsty Huzska
Daryl Ames – Corey Moir
Mama Murphy – Karen Anslow
Daddy Murphy – Alex Rabina
Daddy Cane – Vishan Appana
Stanford Adams – Abigail Helsby

Emerson McMartin, Emily K Brown (Alice Murphy understudy), Helena Savage, Jonathan Howes, Margaret Hill, Ollie Levy, Tara Terry, Ukiah Reynolds
Shawn Condon, Katie Morton, Sayaka Kirkman, Stephen Clothier, Tomos Christie, Luigi Ibanez, Wayne Robinson, Steve ‘Shack’ Morrison, Steven Swanson

Director - Stanford Reynolds
Musical Director - Michael Stebbings
Assistant Musical Director - Shawn Condon
Choreographer - Mel Heaphy
Production Manager - Laura Gardner
Stage Manager - Ed Blunden
Publicity Manager - Letitia Garrett
Props Coordinator - India Loveday
Wardrobe Coordinator - Stacey O'Brien
Lighting Design & Operation - Tom Smith, Lucas Zaner
Sound Design & Operator - Jacob Cannell
Set Concept & Coordinator - Stanford Reynolds
Intimacy Coordinator - Aimee Sullivan
Poster Design - Sandra McKee
Producer - Corey Moir
Front of House Manager - Margaret Hill
Photography - Emily K Brown, Aimee Sullivan

Musical , Theatre ,

2 hours 20 (approx)

Infectious energy from charming cast and lively musicians uplifting and heartening

Review by Georgia Jamieson Emms 18th Nov 2023

It is always interesting to see a rarely-performed musical in Wellington. Bright Star is not a showy show but a quietly tender one that feels at home in the enveloping intimacy of Te Auaha’s Tapere Nui.

Many are already familiar with the phenomenal versatility of Steve Martin, comedian, actor, writer, producer, and musician, winner of five Grammys (including his first bluegrass album in 2010). When he pulls out his banjo on late night talk shows audiences are sometimes surprised, but they really shouldn’t be, nor should we be surprised that his first original musical, Bright Star, is deeply rooted in bluegrass and country music.

For Bright Star Martin teamed up with folk-rock musician Edie Brickell (and wife of Paul Simon, if you enjoy some muso trivia). The story they tell is sweet and predictable, but ultimately a crowd-pleaser, as evidenced by the hugely enthusiastic and supportive opening night audience. 

The show opens in 1946 with Billy Cane (Fynn Bodley-Davies) returning from war to his small home town in North Carolina, and discovering his mother has died in his absence. Determined to become a writer, Billy submits some of his work to literary editor Alice Murphy (Cassandra Tse) who sees his potential.

Suddenly we are transported back 23 years and Alice is a sassy, fun, free-spirited teenage girl, in love with a local boy, Jimmy Ray (Chris McMillan). When she falls pregnant, Alice is packed off to a cabin in the woods to secretly give birth; the newborn child then wrenched from her arms by Jimmy Ray’s father (Mike Bryant) with the assurance that it will be adopted.

The set is very bare, only a blue outline of North America painted on the stage floor and a hay bale; set pieces are quickly whizzed on and off the stage by members of the ensemble which keeps the momentum going. Director Stanford Reynolds also makes good use of the space with ensemble singers placed above the stage singing their judgment down on fallen woman Alice, and they are naturally inserted into onstage scenes to provide backing vocals.

There are strong performances across the board, particularly from Tse and McMillan who match each other in vocal chops and dramatic integrity. They also do a great job bringing dimension and heart to an otherwise underwhelming script.

Supporting characters also have their moments: as Margo, Billy’s love interest, Nadia Newman does a lovely job of ‘Asheville’, sung with charming country-style vocals. Alice’s present-day assistants Lucy (Kirsty Huzska) and Daryl (Corey Moir) in lighter, comedic roles kick up their heels and have an absolute ball. The energetic song-and-dance number ‘Another Round’ is a real highlight.

Choreographer Melanie Heaphy does some beautiful work incorporating many styles of dance – square dance, line dance, a lovely 6/8 waltz, and thigh-slapping cowboy-style routines.

The true star of the night is the orchestral scoring and tightness of the ensembles in the capable hands of Michael Stebbings. The excellent live band all got the memo to wear plaid, and the group numbers are great fun and well sung.

My criticism of Bright Star has nothing to do with this production and everything to do with the writing: this isn’t a groundbreaking musical and many of the lyrics are lazy and cliché-filled. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift when it comes to good country songwriting! However, while some songs are markedly better than others, and as improbable as it is, the energy of the show is infectious, the musicians lively and the cast charming. It is difficult not to feel uplifted and heartened by the whole production.


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Shines with plot twists and toe-tapping music

Review by Sarah Catherall 18th Nov 2023

When I was in sixth form, a girl in my year disappeared for a few months to “help a relative’’. It was the mid-80s and I was at a Catholic girls school, where premarital sex was considered an absolute sin. Years later, I found out that my classmate had gone away to hide her pregnancy, and she had adopted out her child.

I’m reminded of this story – and our history of women being shamed and punished for sex outside of marriage – as Alice Murphy (Cassandra Tse) hides her growing baby from the world in a cabin in North Carolina in the mid-1920s.

Tse, an actor and playwright, is one of the stars of Bright Star, a musical being performed by the talented Footlights team which celebrates its 10th anniversary next year. [More]


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