Steve Martin musical ‘Bright Star’ makes its Long Island premiere

11/01/2019 6:00 AM |

He’s often ranked among the best stand-up comics and is known for his role in classic films like “The Jerk,” but Steve Martin is also a masterful banjoist who, in 2013, partnered with Edie Brickell to write a poignant musical which will make its Long Island premiere next week.

“Bright Star” is inspired by the story of the “Iron Mountain Baby” from the early 20th century. Set in the mountains of Asheville, N.C., the story follows the intertwined lives of small-town characters during the 1940s and in flashbacks to the 1920s.

The tale of love, loss and redemption is set to a bluegrass-inspired score and was nominated for five Tony Awards in 2016, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. It had a brief three-month run on Broadway in 2016 — at the height of Hamilton’s reign.

The musical, presented by the Riverhead Faculty & Community Theatre, opens Friday, Nov. 1.

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“It had a pretty short run [on Broadway] but because of that, it has such a cult following,” said Justin Harris, a Riverhead native who is making his directorial debut with this production. “There aren’t too many country- or folk-inspired musicals that appear on Broadway.”

He said he was immediately drawn to the show, which pairs emotional storytelling with the rawness of country and bluegrass music.

“The lyrics are poetic and the music just pulls you in,” Mr. Harris said. “[Steve Martin] is this jokester, but has mapped out an incredibly emotional show.”

He said it’s an honor to have a hand in bringing the production to the RFCT, where he got his own start in theater as a first-grader in a production of “Oliver! The Musical.”

“It feels like a full-circle moment,” he said.

Mr. Harris, 26, graduated from Riverhead High School in 2011 and holds a degree in neuroscience from Brown University. He currently teaches youth theater courses at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.

“This small-town folk musical fits in perfectly with the East End of Long Island,” Mr. Harris said. “[The story] is embedded in community, and how every decision that one person makes can affect another person, whether we know it or not.”

Mr. Harris has made several adaptations from the original Broadway production, including casting a large ensemble of 35 actors that range in age from 7 to their 60s.

One major change is the decision to cast four actors, rather than two, to portray the two lead characters, which deal in flashbacks.

The production will also feature a live pit orchestra under the direction of Karen Hochstedler.

Mr. Harris said he hopes audiences will leave with a renewed sense of hope after seeing the production.

“One of the lyrics I keep coming back to is ‘The sun is gonna shine again,’ ” Mr. Harris said. “Hope is what the world needs now more than ever.”

The RFCT is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1980 to raise funds for student scholarships, music boosters and other projects that involve children in the arts. “Bright Star” opens Friday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Charles Cardona Auditorium at Riverhead High School.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 1, 2, 8 and 9, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 and 10.

Tickets are available online at rfct.org for $15 in advance, $20 at the door and $10 for students.

Top photo caption: The cast of ‘Bright Star’ rehearses at Riverhead High School Monday. (Credit: Tara Smith)

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