Were it not for all the hoopla surrounding the musical Hamilton, no doubt the star power of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell would have garnered the Broadway bluegrass musical Bright Star a greater share of hype. Not that the production does not deserve it. It does. It has a fairy tale-like plot following two stories separated by some 20 odd years—thwarted love in the 1920s and a young man’s search for his bliss in the 1940s. Both, of course, come together by the final curtain. It has a fine tuneful score more often Broadway-tinged with bluegrass than it is bluegrass-tinged with Broadway. Moreover, it is filled with fine musical performances by an excellent, though perhaps underrated cast, led by Tony-nominated Carmen Cusack.
And on May 27, those performances will be available in CD format on Ghostlight Records’ original cast recording.
Cusack, it is true, has much of the best material to work with, but also true is that she knocks every chance she gets out of the park. It begins with a dynamic performance of the show’s opening number, the character-defining “If You Knew My Story” and continues through her bravura take on the anthemic ballad that leads to the finale, “At Long Last,” one of the tunes attributed solely to Brickell. The other is another blast for Cusack, the lovely, wistful ”Way Back in the Day.”
She joins with Paul Alexander Nolan for a rousing take on “Whoa, Mama,” a tune that reminds me of parts of the classic “Pick a Bale of Cotton.” Nolan also takes the lead on the duet “What Could be Better” and retires some on “I Can’t Wait.” “Heartbreaker” is a melodramatic showpiece for him that matches the ensemble piece in the first act, “Please, Don’t Take Him.”
“Bright Star,” the title song, is a pleasant centerpiece for A. J. Shively, who also joins with Jeff Blumenkrantz and Emily Padgett for the jazzy “Another Round.” “Asheville” is a country ballad for Hannah Elless, who joins with Shively to do their best with the somewhat treacly “Always Will.”
Bright Star, as the cast recording makes clear, is Carmen Cusack’s show and she makes the most of it.
The album comes with a booklet that includes a synopsis of the story by Bill Rosenfield, complete lyrics, and notes from Brickell, Martin, Rosenfield and album producer and music supervisor Peter Asher.