Bishop Ireton High School
South Lakes High School delivered a dazzling production of Bright Star that was overwhelmingly powerful, delightfully engaging, and indescribably beautiful.
The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2016, was written and composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. It was inspired by their 2013 bluegrass album entitled Love Has Come for You, based loosely off an Appalachian folk story. The story takes place across two timelines in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, based in 1945 but with extensive flashbacks to 1923. It weaves together the story of Alice Murphy, from her youthful and passionate romance with a local boy named Jimmy Ray Dobbs, to her future work as a publisher and her encounters with an aspiring writer named Billy Cane. South Lakes delivered a performance that was practically impeccable in nearly all aspects, deftly handling this ambitious story and striking the perfect balance between intense emotion and rollicking entertainment.
Abigail Jamison led the cast with a stunning performance as Alice Murphy. Her voice was clear, powerful, and uniquely gorgeous. The astonishing emotional depth and range required for this role was exceedingly difficult but met with full force, and her chillingly realistic portrayal of grief was truly unforgettable. She was particularly impressive in navigating the nuances of this character as she jumped between the two time periods.
Jamison was joined by Henry Carter as Jimmy Ray Dobbs, and the connection established between the two was both electrifying and heart-wrenching. Carter demonstrated a similarly astounding control of the role's emotional complexity, and his voice was majestic both alone and in duet with Jamison. August Rivers also shone as Billy Cane, delivering exceptional vocals and show-stopping dance moves, having also helped choreograph the show alongside Anna Leo.
Jimmy's father, Mayor Josiah Dobbs, was played to a terrifying and truly despicable perfection by Josh Lewis, and Alexa Norris showcased a beautiful voice and emotional intensity as Mama Murphy, Alice's mother. Another standout was Elana Kirwan as Alice's flirtatious publishing assistant Lucy Grant, who maintained a hilarious dynamic with Jonathan Villa's Daryl and gracefully commanded the stage during the raucously delightful "Another Round."
Rarely does a high school theater production showcase an ensemble with such commitment and consistency as this one. Every single member demonstrated the highest proficiency for storytelling and artistry through both their individual contributions and functioning as a group, and their rich harmonies elevated the musical performances to an even higher level. Their choreography was also truly impressive, working together in perfect synchronicity and even incorporating techniques such as bodily percussion to capture the show's overall Appalachian atmosphere.
The performance also excelled in its technical elements. The costumes and makeup managed to stay accurate and chronologically consistent for the two time periods, which required some ambitious quick changes that were executed effectively. The lighting (directed by Hannah Berger and Ava Harper) seamlessly navigated changes in the mood and scope of a scene, and the backdrop of over one thousand Christmas lights to create the appearance of a starry sky was particularly beautiful. The sets (Charlie Hazlin, Alec McManus, Armstrong Curren, Will Daly, and Abby Wyland) perfectly encapsulated the rustic setting and captured an impressive variety of locations. The show also featured a terrific student orchestra with numerous opportunities for various musicians to be featured within the scenes, tying the whole show together as both a visual and musical sensation.
This production by South Lakes may just be one of the brightest stars you can hope to see throughout all of high school theater.
Centreville High School
In a breathtaking production of Bright Star, South Lakes High School transported their audience back to the early 20th century south on a journey of love, heartbreak, and new beginnings.
Bright Star, written and composed by actor/comedian Steve Martin and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, had its world premiere in 2014, and opened on Broadway in 2016. It received five Tony award nominations, including Best Musical. It follows literary editor Alice Murphy meeting a soldier who recently returned from World War II, interspersed with flashbacks of her teenage life in 1923. It is loosely based on a true story, with music inspired by the bluegrass genre, prominent in the American south.
South Lakes performed an extremely impressive show, with strong acting and tech elements. Backed by a live orchestra featuring fiddles and a banjo, classic to the bluegrass genre, on stage throughout the entire performance, Bright Star boasted consistently strong vocals from every performer, powerful acting, seamless technical elements, and the cozy ambiance of the small town south.
At the heart of the show was Alice Murphy, played by Abigail Jamison, who navigated two different timelines. Jamison skillfully showed Alice's youthful innocence as a teen and starkly contrasted it to her more closed off, mature demeanor as an adult. Even without the costume and set changes, it was clear to the audience where Alice was in her journey only based on Jamison's distinctive acting. This, paired with an impressive vocal performance, lacing emotion through every song, made Jamison an eye-catching performer in every scene. Much of Alice's young life was shown alongside her love interest, Jimmy Ray Dobbs, played by Henry Carter. Carter played an endearing character, his every emotion palpable to the audience through piercing facial expressions in every scene.
August Rivers also gave a strong performance as World War II veteran turned aspiring writer, Billy Cane. An extremely animated actor, Rivers gave a performance that had the entire audience rooting for Billy to be published. Rivers was also a very skilled actor and dancer, showing off his skills as a triple-threat in many songs, notably "Another Round." Alongside Madelyn Bobko as Margo Crawford, a very skilled comic actor and Billy's love interest, the two actors lit up every scene they were in together, their chemistry kept the entire audience rooting for their happily ever after.
Upon entering the theater, the set (by Armstrong Curren, Will Daly, Charlie Hazlin, Alec McManus) was immediately eye-catching, with the orchestra in the two-story design. The set worked hand in hand with the lighting and special effects (by Hannah Berger and Ava Harper) with lights representing stars sparkling in the background, and lighting cues hitting perfectly on beat with the orchestra, shining through the windows of an impressively constructed train. The production contrasted the flashback scenes very well, using different costumes (by Anna Schoenborn, Reilley Lin, Caitlin Quigley), often changed very quickly, as well as cleverly using smoke as a special effect to make the past appear hazy. The orchestra pit (Charlie Moore, Raquel Sanchez, Beck Baker, Calla Alexander, Lucia Sanchez, Victor Winterstein, Sam Lasure, Jane Waldrop) performed beautifully on stage the entire time, at one point coming to center stage to playfully open the second act, with standout performances from soloists Sanchez and Moore.
South Lakes' Bright Star was a heartwarming, impactful performance, leaving audiences with the comfort of knowing that the "sun is gonna shine again."