Interviews and video: Lyric Theatre brings Steven Martin and Edie Brickell's bluegrass musical 'Bright Star'
An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
'Bright Star': Lyric Theatre premiering the Tony-nominated bluegrass musical from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Bligh Voth has been chasing “Bright Star” since she saw Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s musical on Broadway three years ago.
“I get a little fixated on roles I want to play. … I auditioned and then I auditioned again, and then I couldn’t make it to an audition because I was doing another show at the time and we were in tech (rehearsals). It was always like a show that I felt like I was supposed to do and I just didn’t know when,” said the New York-based actress in a recent phone interview.
“Then, when I said, ‘OK, it’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen,’ I got a call from Michael (Baron) that said, ‘Listen, I saw “Bright Star” on Broadway … and it’s you. It’s perfect. It’s where your voice fits, it’s exactly the style of music that you sing, and I would love to have you do it here.’ And I was elated. … I get to close this chapter of crazy and chasing this.”
Voth will return to Oklahoma City to star in Lyric Theatre’s Oklahoma professional premiere of “Bright Star” Wednesday through April 28 at its Plaza District Theatre.
“It’s a big show for the Plaza. The cast is not small,” said Baron, Lyric’s producing artistic director. “The music’s really lovely … and it’s so heartbreaking and uplifting. It’s very funny, but he (Martin) actually wrote just a really sweet tale. Edie Brickell’s music is really good, and not traditional musical theater music.”
The five-time Tony Award-nominated show grew out of Martin and Brickell’s 2013 collaborative bluegrass album “Love Has Come for You,” which earned the Grammy for Best American Roots Song for the title track. Brickell also has said that the musical was inspired by the turn-of-the-20th-century fact-based folk song “The Iron Mountain Baby.”
“Bright Star” tracks the path of Alice Murphy (Voth), first in the 1920s when she is a small-town teenager in the throes of young love and rebellion, and then in the 1940s as she is a literary editor who encounters an aspiring writer and World War II veteran Billy Cane (Ken Singleton).
“I kind of walk into this perfect experience, where this is already the book and it’s great. And I get to sing it and I get to be a part of it. The story is awesome. It’s rare to have a story where the female lead goes through such a wave of emotions. To have a whole show focused on her arc is such a gift,” Voth said.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Voth made her Lyric debut in the theater’s 2013 production of “Big River,” and credits also include the period pieces “Million Dollar Quartet,” “Civil War” and “A Christmas Carol.”
“I’m a little bit of a history dork, so I love studying any videos or any original content that you can get, whether it’s photos … or books about how people walked and how they talked and what the style was. I try to think about ‘what would I be wearing and how would that inform how I stand? What kind of shoes would I have on? Just because I think it helps,” she said. “I want to make sure that 20 years you can see kind of the trajectory from Point A to Point B, so that gives my character a fleshed-out feeling.”
Lyric’s production will feature a cast of 16 actors and a seven-piece band playing the show’s bluegrass, folk and gospel music. Although “Bright Star” was overshadowed by “Hamilton” during its Broadway run, Baron said the Brickell and Martin’s score is already beloved by music theater performers and fans.
Local TV personality, musician and actor Lucas Ross, who handles community outreach and promotion for the Oklahoma City-based American Banjo Museum, will perform a special preshow at select “Bright Star” dates.
“We’re kind of using it as a chance to highlight the instrument,” Ross said. “The banjo is used in bluegrass style in the show, but also with Steve Martin being inducted into the (Banjo) Hall of Fame a couple years ago, it just worked out and made a lot of sense. There are a lot of other theaters that are starting to do this across the country, but nobody else has access to the banjo museum in their back yard. … So, it’s like a great marriage.”
For Voth, her love of bluegrass music grew out of childhood.
“My dad played in a bluegrass band at one time. He’s from Kansas, he plays a bunch of instruments, my brothers play a bunch of instruments. We just grew up kind of always jamming. … I know a lot of musicals, I know a lot of jazz, I know a lot of bluegrass, I know a lot of rock and rockabilly. We didn’t listen to any contemporary music: When all the other kids my age were listening to NSYNC, I was like ‘Have you heard the London cast recording of “Les Miz?”’ And people were like, ‘No, I don’t know what you’re talking about,’” she recalled with a laugh. “So, I feel like I play a lot of period things and I have my dad to thank.”
Lyric Theatre’s “Bright Star”
When: Wednesday-April 28.
Where: Lyric at the Plaza, 1725 NW 16 St.
Tickets and information: www.lyrictheatreokc.org or 524-9312.