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Performing Arts

Merely Players stages bluegrass musical ‘Bright Star’

Mandy Irons Gardner as Alice, left front, and Dallas Padoven as Jimmy Ray, rehearse a scene from Merely Players’ latest production, “Bright Star.” (Courtesy of Kara Cavalca)
‘It’s a beautiful story about redemption. And forgiveness’

Every spring, Merely Players stages a musical, and this time, the Players will be taking audiences on an epic, sweeping take of love and redemption – and plenty of live bluegrass music – with “Bright Star.”

The opening of “Bright Star,” by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, has been pushed back to May 11 and will run through May 21. It’s a sweeping and unabashedly romantic tale of love and redemption set against the backdrop of the American South early last century.

“It’s a beautiful story about redemption. And forgiveness,” said Director Mona Wood-Patterson. “This particular play is rather an epic tale but told through bluegrass. It’s based on a true circumstance – the tale of the Iron Mountain Baby, which is a true story of a baby who is 5 days old, who fell approximately 50 feet from a train in Missouri.” The baby was found by a Civil War veteran, who nursed the child back to health and adopted the baby.

The musical is set in the mountains of North Carolina and switches back and forth from the 1920s to the 1940s, Wood-Patterson said, adding that while it’s not a historical retelling of that legend, it is legendary in theme because it’s got universal truths and emphasizes that we all live our stories and everyone’s story is filled with struggles and joy. It’s a reminder that we never know what someone else might be going through.

If you go

WHAT: Merely Players presents “Bright Star,” a bluegrass musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

WHEN: 7 p.m. May 11-13 and 18-20. 2 p.m. May 14 and 21.

WHERE: Merely Underground, 789 Tech Center Drive.

TICKETS: $25-$35.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit merelyplayers.org.

“The chapters of our life and the story, of course, haven’t all been written yet, right?” she said. “We don’t know how it’s going to end. And what’s exciting about the players is how different people’s stories intersect.”

The production features cast, band and crew made up of 49 community members ages 14 to 76, Wood-Patterson said, which adds to the rich storytelling of “Bright Star.”

“We are also a collective of storytellers, each of us bringing our own stories and experiences into it, and that is what I love about creating theater in this community,” she said. “We have seven couples who are families, and not all couples, but for instance, we have serene married couples; mothers and sons; and we have two fathers and daughters.

Brin DeVore as Lucy and Conor Sheehan as Billy rehearse a scene in “Bright Star.” (Courtesy of Kara Cavalca)

Mandy Gardner plays the role of Alice Murphy, whose story of love, loss and transformation the play is centered on. Dallas Padoven and Conor Sheehan are the male leads.

Actresses playing larger supporting roles will switch off during the run: Katie Dittelberger, Hallie Denman and Lori Fisher play large roles on Thursdays and Fridays. Gyana Bandy Gomar, Brin DeVore and Melissa Mossinghoff play large roles on Saturdays and Sundays. Kasey Hall appears on May 18, 19, 20 and 21; and Cassandra Owen appears on May 11, 12, 13 and 14.

The production team includes Directors Wood-Patterson and Mary-Catherine McAlvany; Tom Kyser as vocal music director; Paula Millar plays the music and conducts the band; and Charles Ford creates scenery and coordinates all tech.

The scenic elements are kept minimal by design, Wood-Patterson said.

From left, Katie Dittelberger as Margo; Ava Allen as Edna; Ashley Rose Hunt as Helen; and Mohriah James as Florence rehearse a scene from “Bright Star.” (Courtesy of Kara Cavalca)

“(It’s) to activate the playgoers’ imagination and understanding,” she said. “We’re using light and movement because it’s fast-paced. There’s 27 scenes. It’s meant to be minimally presented. It’s not ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ It feels homey, it feels earthy and real.”

Geoff Johnson is Mayor Dobbs and Jessica McCallum is Stanford. (Courtesy of Kara Cavalca)

And while all of the showings of “Bright Star” are sold out – in fact, Wood-Patterson said the show sold out three weeks before opening, and the Players sold out every show all season – there’s still a chance you can grab a seat. Merely Players continues its tradition of offering a waitlist before each show in the event an audience member is unable to attend the performance. She said to visit merelyplayers.org to get on the list.

Another way to score tickets is to show up to Merely Underground about 30 minutes before showtime in case there are no-shows. Wood-Patterson said


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