Life is complicated. But sometimes, all it takes is a work of art to remind us to keep hope alive – and remember that love always finds a way. A gentle flame flickering to the tune of bluegrass strings is what Theatre UCF’s production of Bright Star will kindle in the hearts of audiences. The show, directed by Michael Wainstein, will run through April 2 in the Main Stage Theatre.
First performed on Broadway in 2014, Bright Star is the theatrical lovechild of comedian Steve Martin and 80’s rocker Edie Brickell, based on their Grammy award-winning album Love Has Come for You. The musical, inspired by the folk story of the Iron Mountain Baby, weaves between 1920s and 1940s North Carolina as it follows the life of Alice Murphy.
As a teenager, Alice falls in love with the mayor’s son, Jimmy Ray, and has a child – only to have her pregnancy hidden from the town and her baby taken at birth. Now a successful editor conquering a male-dominated profession, she has a shocking encounter that changes the course of her life. Reflecting its Southern setting, Theatre UCF’s Bright Star features a bluegrass band playing in front of the stage, adding sweet string music to a sweeping tale of love and redemption.
Magdalena Tronina, senior in Theatre BFA program and stage manager for the show, believes Alice’s journey offers a reassuring message to audiences.
“What I like about Bright Star is that it’s a beautiful story,” says Tronina. “It lets you take a break from reality for a second – and although the story has moments of heartache and touches on important issues – it’s a story of hope. There are times when hope vanishes from the main characters, but they go on living, hoping for the best. And I think that is something that audiences need right now; to walk out of the theater feeling hopeful for the future.”
Bright Star features a powerful female lead overcoming restrictions forced on her by a historically patriarchal society. Tronina points out the play is perfect for March, which is Women’s History Month.
“Through Alice, the story sheds light on some of the hardships many women have faced in a patriarchal society,” Tronina says. “But then it shows her overcoming all of that and achieving her dreams as a successful editor.”
Coming into their characters has been a transformative experience for student actors in the production. For Colby Bell, a first-year MFA Acting student, his role as Jimmy Ray is a dream come true.
“I grew up in a very small town in Georgia, and my dad was principal of the town’s public high school,” Bell says. “Jimmy’s whole thing is that he wants to escape this small town, which is one of the big ways I connect with him.”
Bell first saw Bright Star while watching the Tony Awards in 2014. The songs and characters stuck with him for years after, leading him to perform multiple auditions as Jimmy Ray throughout his career.
“When I came to UCF for my MFA and found out they were doing this show, I thought, this is my chance to play Jimmy Ray. And I was super careful to tell myself, ‘If I don’t get the role, it’s fine.’ But the day I got the part, it was a cathartic moment of, ‘yeah, this is probably why I came to UCF.’”
Like Bell, Wainstein has been drawn to Bright Star ever since it arrived on Broadway seven years ago.
“My favorite part of doing this show has been seeing the students evolve,” Wainstein said. “The challenging demands of the very emotional story, the complex music and other issues like dialect, age changes and period changes, make for a great learning experience for actors and designers. I have really enjoyed the students’ evolution as they engage with the story and grow to embrace it and tell it fully and completely.”
Tickets are $25 for general admission and $10 for students with ID from any school. The full show schedule and tickets are available here.