Theater Review: ‘Bright Star’ Musical at the Old Globe

Remember a while back when I told you about seeing “The Winter’s Tale,” a Shakespeare production at the Old Globe here in San Diego’s Balboa Park?

The hubs took me to see another musical there not too long ago, and I want to share it with you locals just in case you’re interested.

Disclaimer: I have absolutely NO credibility to write a theater review. This is just my own personal reaction to what I saw.

It’s called “Bright Star,” and its claim to fame is its writers: Steve Martin (yes, the big-screen funny man) wrote the book and Edie Brickell (Grammy-winning retro-folk musician) wrote the song lyrics.

bright_star

Before I bought tickets, there hadn’t been a ton of reviews written yet, and everyone had been really tight-lipped about the plot, so I had only a teensy idea what to expect. The plot is predictable, so the pleasure rests not so much in thrilling twists or shocking reveals as it does in watching the events unfold in a pleasing, delicate way.

I won’t give the plot away. If you’re interested, check out these reviews by Variety, The New York Times, and U-T San Diego.

Don’t go for the plot — or even for the characters. Go for the MUSIC!

If you like bluegrass, you’ll like the score. For me, the songs were worth the price of admission. It’s down-home heaven, and I wish I could download the CD somewhere!

But, please don’t expect something akin to Midwestern musicals of yore, such as “Oklahoma,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” or even “The Music Man.” These songs are much, much less “showy” and don’t feel like musical numbers as much as they do album tracks. Even the choreography is minimal. Many times, the characters’ body movements during a song are the same as their body movements during regular dialogue. (I think this is intentional.)

The characters are gorgeously portrayed by Broadway-seasoned actors.

Bright_Star_collage_1

Top left: Carmen Cusack shines in the female lead as buttoned-up editor Alice Murphy. Her two employees (behind her) lend a lot of the comic relief, especially Jeff Hiller as receptionist Daryl. Kate Loprest makes a ditzy-sexy Lucy.

Top right: A.J. Shively stars as the male co-lead, playing Billy Cane, a bright-eyed kid fresh out of the service after WWII.

Lower left: Hannah Elless plays Margo, Billy’s love interest. I wish she’d had more stage time. Adorable and elegant, she was spot-on as the fresh-faced, ripe-for-the-picking Margo. Her posture always made her look like a bird about to take flight.

Lower right: Wayne Duvall as Mayor Josiah Dobbs. He actually got booed at the curtain call when we were there! It has nothing to do with his acting chops and everything to do with his character’s moral depravity.

Bright_Star_collage_2

The set was extremely lean but very effective. They used the same pieces over and over in new and interesting ways. In the bottom photo above, the wooden “house” is where the live bluegrass band played all the accompaniment.

So, my verdict: Go for the music, and don’t expect much plot-wise.

I’ve seen quite a few plays at the Old Globe since moving to San Diego, and they’ve all been superb!

Just a few months ago, I saw an incredible performance of “Into the Woods.” Normally, this is a lavish fairy-tale musical, but they staged this one with a static set, a random assortment of props, and very minimal cast (many actors played two or even three characters). Honestly, the whole effect was charming!

Into_the_woods6

Everyone was wearing vaguely period costumes, and the set looked like the performance was being staged in someone’s attic using only the junk and random instruments they could find stuffed away in old trunks and boxes. There was also a somewhat hipster vibe, but I’ll forgive that (haha).

Into_the_Woods_collage_1

See how the same actress playing Rapunzel is also playing Little Red Riding Hood? The same actor portraying the Wolf is also playing one of the wicked stepsisters. Rapunzel gets a ladder instead of a tower, and the stepsisters use old curtains to mimic twinsie-dresses.

Into_the_Woods_collage_2

Top left: See the backdrop? It’s supposed to evoke the image of piano strings. I also love how YARNIE this one was. See the miller’s wife’s chunky scarf? Rapunzel’s hair was made of yarn, and there were plenty of fingerless gloves, shawls, and beanies to go around.

This musical isn’t playing anymore, but you can look forward to Christmas when Disney releases “Into the Woods” as a feature film starring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, and more. All I can say is !!!!

Here are a few of the other productions I’ve seen at the Old Globe:

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Slapstick murder mystery with an “Addams Family” meets “Downton Abbey” aesthetic.

Gentlemans_Guide

The Last Goodbye

Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” set to the late Jeff Buckley’s rock music. This one was leather clad, machete wielding, hip grinding, etc…

Last_Goodbye

Every summer, the Globe does a traditional Shakespeare season. Last year, I saw “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” …

Midsummer

… and “The Merchant of Venice.”

Merchant

The Globe also seems to do Shaw at least once a season. The first play I saw at the Globe was “Pygmalion.” That’s Robert Sean Leonard playing Henry Higgins. Remember him from “Dead Poet’s Society”?

Pygmalion

If you’re thinking of visiting the Globe for the first time, you may have questions. I know I did.

Is it worth paying extra to sit in the middle at the indoor Conrad Prebys Theatre?

Not for me. Instead of paying near $100 per ticket, I opt for the $39 tickets on the sides. It isn’t the best view in the house, but the price break is WELL worth it. You can still see everything, and the theater is much smaller than the online seating chart makes it seem.

Wait. What theater am I going to?

The Conrad Prebys stage is the one that looks like the London Globe on the outside. But there are two other stages on campus. Your show might be in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, which is an even smaller stage constructed in the round (audience on all four sides of the stage). If you’re seeing Shakespeare in the summer, you’re likely going to be at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, which is much larger and outdoors. Your seat will have a back (not bench seats) but no padding, so bring a cushion if you need it. Also bring a jacket, shawl, or blanket if the evening air is going to be chilly.

Where do I park?

Here’s a handy map.

Balboa_Park_Parking

Option 1 is the closest parking lot, but it’s small and fills up quickly. Option 2 may look like a far walk, but it’s not, and the paths are well-lit at night. It’s a much bigger lot, so you’re likely to find a spot. As a last resort, you can try Option 3, which is (ironically) where Google Maps will take you if you plug in the Globe’s address. This isn’t as pleasant or well-lit of a walk, but it’s a big lot that’s unlikely to be full — a good bet if you’re really running late.

Where do I eat?

If you’re short on time, you can always eat at the cafe right next to the Globe theater. It serves coffee, drinks, and full-on entrees, such as bread-bowl soups and pastas. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for the taste. Prices are reasonable ($6 to $10), and you sit on the outdoor patio. If you want to drop some cash, indoor dining at the Prado is just a short walk away.

Hope this post convinces you to check out the Globe sometime!

And, just in case you forgot, this blog is affiliate-free, so I don’t get any goodies in return for these reviews. It’s just good ol’ fashioned sharing.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Do you like the theater? What are your favorite types of shows to see? What are your favorite local theaters?

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