Theater Review: BRIGHT STAR (Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont)

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by Lawrence Lucero on April 28, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Bright Star is a heartwarming musical written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell inspired by their 2013 bluegrass album Love Has Come for You. The show had a Broadway run in the spring of 2016 with direction by Walter Bobbie, choreography by Josh Rhodes and a set design by Eugene Lee.

Now, Candlelight Pavilion — with sets, wigs, props and costumes courtesy of Musical Theatre West — presents a beautiful recreation of the original production led by director Chuck Ketter and choreographer Kelly Baker.

Sitting in a movable, exposed-beam cabin structure, and surrounded by rustic elements, birch trees, and a blue-sky backdrop with twinkling lights, the Bright Star Band indeed shines brightly under the music direction of Ryan O’Connell. Amidst the rotating cabin, there is a swirl of sweeping movement, dance and action as the opening number began (“If You Knew My Story”). We knew we were in for a good one. Sung gloriously by Christanna Rowader as Alice Murphy, an editor in 1940s’ North Carolina, we are invited to give ear to her life story told in music. Ms. Rowader radiates confidence, beauty, and star quality. Her wigs (by Michon Gruber-Gonzales) and costumes (coordinated by Merrill Grady) enhance her allure ranging from simple to sleek.

We next meet Billy Cane, a young soldier and writer returned from World War II, played by a very talented and charismatic Zach Fogel, who sings exuberantly about his aspirations for life (“Bright Star”). Mr. Fogel is what is known in the theater as a triple threat; He can act, sing, and dance. I could easily see him treading the boards in a First National Tour or better. The gentleman in the life of Alice Murphy is Jimmy Rae Dobbs, sweetly portrayed by a very handsome Nic Olsen.  Mr. Olsen shines in his scenes with Ms. Rowader and handles his character’s transitions well as the story progresses.

Two other standout performance are Emily Chelsea as Margo — who sings “Asheville” with a strong country sound and an impassioned plea-filled conviction — and Greg Nicholas, who is convincingly good as Daddy Murphy, especially in his second act scene with his daughter.

The terrific-sounding ensemble, especially in the opening and closing numbers, handles the energetic staging and athletic dance numbers with precision.

Ultimately it is the music and staging with its story filled with humanity and redemption that makes Bright Star special. The Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater is a gem of a venue where you can have good food in a very festive atmosphere and experience a great staff and show for a fraction of the cost of an event in the city. Dinner theater is a special tradition from years gone by and it’s nice to see a place like this continuing the legacy.

photos by Demetrio Katsantonis

Bright Star
Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater
455 West Foothill Blvd in Claremont
doors open on Fri and Sat at 6; Sun at 5;
Sat and Sun at 11; Thurs at 6 (May 9)
(meals served before the show,
which begins 1:45 after doors open)
ends on May 25, 2019
for tickets ($30-$78 includes meal),
call 909.626.1254 x 1 or visit Candlelight

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