‘Bright Star’: A Piece of Genuine Passion at the Omaha Community Playhouse

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Britney Bearfield
CONTRIBUTOR

It’s been years since Alice Murphy (Angela Jenson Frey) has seen Jimmy Ray (Jay Srygley), but the two are reunited and learn some life-changing news. Image courtesy of the Omaha Community Playhouse.

One thing the pandemic has taught us is to cherish people’s authenticity. Everyone has a story, and the musical performance “Bright Star,” currently on stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse, is a genuine story of love, tragedy, hope and redemption that anybody can relate to. Not to mention that the narrative’s love story is ideal for the month of February.

Roxanne Wach, a Nebraska native, directs the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of “Bright Star.” Steve Martin and Edie Brickell wrote and created the music, book and story. I can tell from the director’s notes and from my own perspective that a great deal of effort has been put into this musical, which should be commended. This bluegrass musical was unlike any other, and the plot pushed me to confront the daily obstacles life throws at me.

The story is based on true events and takes place in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The story chronicles Alice Murphy’s (Angela Jenson Frey) quest to make sense of her past. The plot alternates between the 1940s, when Alice Murphy is a prominent magazine editor at the Asheville Southern Journal, and the 1920s, when she is a youthful, charismatic and free-spirited teen in love with Jimmy Ray (Jay Srygley). The plot also follows Billy Cane (Matt Karasek), a young writer who returns from war and intends to pursue his literary dreams by submitting his work to the Asheville Southern Journal. There, he meets Alice and embarks on a trip that will forever impact both of their lives.

The first musical performance, “If You Knew My Story,” introduces the audience to Alice. The number establishes the show’s purpose and makes it simple to follow along with her story. As I became aware of the presence of a banjo and fiddle, what began as a standard entrance song swiftly transformed into a unique composition. Its overall sound is unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a musical. I appreciate the bluegrass flavor, since it complements the setting and era in which the plot takes place.

If you’re familiar with bluegrass, you’re aware that it’s country music with a “jazz-meets-blues” vibe and that each song is brimming with emotion and passion. The musical numbers on “Bright Star” exceeded all expectations of the bluegrass sound, with each song delivered with uninhibited passion. One number that struck out was Margo’s (Analisa Swerczek) heartfelt performance of “Asheville.” This beautiful number is overflowing with adoration, as Margo is in love with Billy, who is leaving their community to pursue a literary career.

Another speechless performance took place at the end of Act I when “A Man’s Gotta Do” was reprised. You will get goosebumps when Mayor Dobbs (Michael Markey) is on stage. The story takes a dark turn, leaving the audience eager for Act II.

If you’re looking for an authentically inspiring experience that will fill you with hope, I recommend attending this musical — it has everything you need in terms of love, tragedy, joy and hopefulness.

“Bright Star” runs through Feb. 13 at the Omaha Community Playhouse with performances Wednesday through Sunday. To order tickets, call (402) 553-0800, visit OmahaPlayhouse.com, or come to the OCP Box Office.

A flashback to the 1920s of a young Alice Murphy (Angela Jenson Frey) and Jimmy Ray (Jay Srygley). Image courtesy of the Omaha Community Playhouse.

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