‘Bright Star’ at Lucky Penny – An Epic of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Bright Star Ensemble. Photo by Lucky Penny Productions.

A standing ovation, a square dance celebration, a train moving through the night, and 23 years of question add to the allure of Bright Star. Add these to a string bluegrass band and you have a rollercoaster of music, dance and story befitting an epic of ancient Greece by way of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Bright Star is definitely a stellar production of the heart.

Unable to produce this show in 2016, Lucky Penny Productions brought it together for us 6 years later, for our pleasure.  A small band and a large stage space opens up the potential for outrageous choreography with everyone in the cast singing together in harmony.  There’s lots of talent on this stage to kick up their heels and spread both joy and sorrow.

Sean O’Brien (as Daddy Cane), Tommy Lassiter (as Billy Cane), Kirstin Pieschke (as Margo Crawford). Photo by Lucky Penny Productions.

The musical is written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell in 2014, inspired by the folk tale of the Iron Mountain Baby. The story begins in 1945 with Billy Cane (played by Tommy Lassiter) coming home after WW2 and to find that his mother has passed.  In his search for a new life, he confides to his friend, Margo (played by Kirstin Pieschke), that he needs to write.  So, off he goes to the Asheville Southern Journal to submit some stories to the editor, Alice Murphy (played by Taylor Bartolucci).

Taylor Bartolucci (as Alice Murphy), Emma Southerland (Ensemble), Alex Gomez (Ensemble), Ian Elliott (as Jimmy Ray Dobbs). Photo by Lucky Penny Productions.

Alice recounts that she used to enjoy herself, but not now.  Suddenly, in a flashback, we are back in 1923.  The story evolves into a forbidden relationship and a child.  The music is pure bluegrass and is perfect for the time.  With a cast of 18, the music fills the hall over the piano, banjo and fiddle accompaniment. Excitement reigns with new love between Alice and Jimmy Ray Dobbs (played by Ian Elliott); alas, the joy does not continue and the relationship ends with the families interfering.

Back in 1945, a mature Alice teaches Billy Cane to write for the paper, and life goes on in the small town of Hayes Creek, North Carolina. The past curse is broken with discoveries of old flames and a new family.  The story resolves to bring happiness back to our theatre world.  In our case, the magic comes from the experience of the telling of the story.

Ian Elliott (as Jimmy Ray Dobbs), Taylor Bartolucci (as Alice Murphy), Tommy Lassiter (as Billy Cane). Photo by Lucky Penny Productions.

The bluegrass fiddle echoes through the play.  Bartolucci plays a stern and critical Alice in the beginning, singing a serious lament in “If You Knew My Story” and a wishful “Way Back In The Day” to flash back to 1923. Her voice is excellent, constrained with the story she begins to tell. Bartolucci’s dress, attitude and voice change dramatically with the evolution of the story to the dramatic ending.

Lassiter is new to the Lucky Penny, playing young Billy Cane.   His voice rings with the enthusiasm of youth and hope.  This is a great start for Lassiter to evolve in theatre.  Billy Cane’s father, Daddy Cain (played by Sean O’Brien), has a surprise for us all with a riveting hunt for the truth.  O’Brien has played in many roles in the Bay Area that bring out his fun attitude and strong voice.

Scott Moraj (as Daryl Ames), Jenny Veilleux (as Lucy Grant). Photo by Lucky Penny Productions.

Scott Maraj and Jenny Veilleux play Daryl Ames and Lucy Grant, respectively.  They work at the newspaper to insult Billy and keep him from writing for the paper; drama abounds at the Journal. Slowly, Alice takes a liking to the boy and helps him publish.

Barbara McFadden and Scott Slagle play Mama and Daddy Murphy, Alice’s family.  The Christian family is not happy with Alice having a life outside the home, and sing “Firmer Hand/Do Right” together to strongly object to Alice’s independence.  The strong impersonations are perfect for the scene.

Mayor Josiah Dobbs (played by Barry Martin) is against Alice for another reason: she is below his son’s social standing.  Eventually, the mayor finds a sad way to break up the loving couple.  Herein lies the heart of the play.

Dennis O’Brien (as Stanford), Barry Martin (as Mayor Josiah Dobbs), Scott Slagle (as Daddy Murphy). Photo by Lucky Penny Productions.

The additional eight actors in the ensemble help to create the magic of this show.  They are the chorus of ever-present eyes and ears and movement and voices that reveal the emotions of the story from all parts of the stage floor.  The coordinated choreography (thanks choreographers Jacqi Muratori and Alex Gomez) of so many people in great costumes (thanks costumer Barbara McFadden) singing in harmony and spirited joy (thanks music director Craig Burdette) make this show a must see.  It’s like being center stage in the midst of a celebration of life’s woes and joys.

Music director Craig Burdette has a small platform upstage of the main floor.  An old piano with four other musicians tell the story.  The mood is tense with focus on the broad action and heightened moods throughout the show.  The fiddle is there for the square dance, the bass rings out the beat for the party, the mandolin and banjo complete the details of the songs so resounding in the show. When the last bars are played to wrap up the story, we see the pianist/director lean back on his bench in satisfaction that the epic saga has been completed with perfection; a simple story is told with the passion of life.

Lucky Penny Productions cast and crew and house are fully vaccinated for COVID-19; masks are required for all audience. 

“Bright Star” continues at Lucky Penny at 1758 Industrial Way, Ste 208, Napa, through June 12, 2022.

For further information and reservations: http://luckypennynapa.com/    

Rating: ****

“Bright Star,” by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, produced by Lucky Penny Productions.  Director: Barry Martin, Music Director: Craig Burdette, Choreographer: Jacqi Muratori and Alex Gomez, Set Designer: Barry Martin & Taylor Bartolucci, Light Designer: April George, Sound Design: Barry Martin, Costume Designer: Barbara McFadden, Stage Manager: Jeff Bristow.

Cast: Talor Bartolucci as Alice Murphy, Tommy Lassiter as Billy Cane, Sean O’Brien as Daddy Cane, Kirstin Pieschke as Margo Crawford, Scott Maraj as Daryl Ames, Jenny Veilleux as Lucy Grant, Barbara McFadden as Mama Murphy, Scott Slagle as Daddy Murphy, Barry Martin as Mayor Josiah Dobbs, Ian Elliott as Jimmy Ray Dobbs, Dannis O’Brien as Stanford/Ensemble, Brad Fisher as Dr. Norquist/Ensemble, Alex Gomez as Max/Ensemble/Dance Captain, Leslie Sexton as Clerk/Ensemble, Emma Sutherland as Florence/Ensemble, Pilar Gonzales as Edna/Ensemble, Cas Davis as Well Dressed Woman/Ensemble, Trey Reeves as Ensemble.

The Band: Craig Burdette on Piano, Alan K. Parks on Bass, Morgan Cochneuer on Guitar, Peter Domenici on Banjo, Matthew Vincent on Fiddle.


Author: Gary Gonser

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.