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Posts tagged ‘Country and Western’

Dreamy, Hypnotic, Superlative!Original Cast CD of “Bright Star” Is All That and More!

Bright Star 1Carmen Cusack2Four Stars!+++ This year’s Outer Critics Circle winner of Best Musical “Bright Star” now has its’ Original Cast CD available and it’s a beauty!Dreamy, hypnotic, superlative, this gem of a recording captures everything that is great and swoon-worthy about this stupendous, original show. Music and lyrics by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, who are now my favorite Bway duo. And their great leading lady, Carmen Cusack’s magnificent voice wails, swoops and soars into Bway history as she makes her astounding Bway  debut.

Country and Western, too, since “Bright Star” is first and last a bluegrass musical. I have to admit to not being a fan of this well-worn genre, but now I am! That’s how transportative the music of “Bright Star” is! And if you’re already a country and western afficionado, well, “Bright Star” will be right up your Nashville alley!

The story of a young woman in the earlier part of the last century living in the rural South and trying to find herself, and love, in a society that can only be called repressive, I am so glad to report that “Bright Star”s trills and thrills have all been carefully and lovingly recorded for posterity, and you’ll be able to listen to its’ musical joys over and over again. As I’m doing right now.

It’s the soundtrack of a life and starts with the killer “If You Knew My Story” which introduces the full throated Ms. Cusack right at the top of the show, wailing in her husky, mesmeric contralto and leaning against the porch post of her A-frame shack that’s about to spin her and us into Musical Comedy history.Bright Star 3

The level of achievement of all involved is so high, it’s breath-taking. I cried my way through the first act the last time I saw it, and I can’t help listening to Carmen Cusack’s  rueful, country wail without thinking of the tragedy that awaits her stalwart, brave character.

And did I mention that Steve Martin and Edie Brickell Bright Star 2wrote this wonderful, catchy, plaintive music that never veres far from the banjo Martin is so proud of playing at the drop of a hat. “Bright Star” justifies this mystifying transition of his. From stand up comic to great Bway composer. I want to go out and buy all their CDs  now. I’m a fan. And “Bright Star” Original Cast will make you a fan, too.

Carmen Cusack is not alone in her musical whirl. Paul Alexander Logan and A.J.Shively also shine as the young men in her life, and all sing like there’s no tomorrow.

“Way Back in the Day”, “Bright Star”, “The Sun Is Gonna Shine Again”, “I Am Blinded” and “At Last” all soar and are so darn catchy, you’ll be humming all of them in your head til the cows come home. And this is from a critic who was born and raised in the Bronx!

# Bright Star CD

“Bright Star” Shines on Bway w/terrific debut by Carmen Cusack

Bright Star 5Carmen Cusack 1A  tuneful, ORGINAL new musical is a very rare thing these days on Broadway, but “Bright Star” is just that.  It is really a cause for jubilation. And comedian Steve Martin, of all people, is the power generator behind this welcome bluegrass musical marvel. Edie Brickell, a pop star singer/songwriter who was previously unknown to me, is his musical partner in crime here, and what a delight-filled evening of song they make!

I’ve always felt that a successful musical comedy should just be one wonderful song after the other after the other, and one so rarely sees that anymore on Broadway, but “Bright Star” is just that. The first four numbers alone are so strong and singable “If You Knew My Story”, “She’s Gone”, “Bright Star” and “Back in the Day”are each so startling, memorable and different, I immediately wanted to rush out and buy the CD. Except since “Bright Star” just opened this past week, they don’t have one yet. But they sure as will soon, and I’ll let you know when that delightful event happens.

Other songs, too, including second act showstoppers, “Always Will” and “At Last” are also immediate standards-to-be I’m so sure.

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And “Bright Star”s ace-in-the-hole is the astonishing Carmen Cusack, who sings nearly all these great songs with a country twang that verges on the operatic. She plays the dauntless heroine Alice Murphy, who, except for her rather trite name, is doubtless also going to be known as one of the greatest roles for an actress in musical comedy history.

Cusack has the daunting task of slipping backwards and forwards in time as her character ages back and forth between a hard-bitten literary editor and a plucky teenage un-wed mother with big dreams in a stultifying North Carolina town. It is put upon Cusack to take us through all these time shifts from 1945-1946 to 22 years earlier, and she does it so effortlessly, and so charmingly that she just made me gasp.

Yes, Carmen Cusack is doing the impossible embodying all these moods and ages that she for sure is now launched into the rarefied Broadway stratosphere as one of its’ most important, as well as newest, diva-cum-star. Who did she remind me most of? A cross between Reba McIntire and Maria Callas. Her roof-raising voice is as rangy as any Puccini heroine.

She is ably abetted in her time-travelling tropes by leading men, Paul Alexander Nolan and also A.J. Shively, who plays a WWII vet with literary aspirations who gets to sing the wonderful, toe-tapping title song “Bright Star.”

Bright Star 3

Broadway vet Michael Mulheren gets to shine, too, finally after a life-time of thankless supporting roles, as the dastardly mayor. Dee Hoty is wasted as our heroine’s weak mother.  Hannah Alless strikes the show’s one false note as its’ stereo-typed ingenue. Underwritten compared to the other female roles, what could anyone do with a part like that that is pure treacle?

Emily Padgett of “Side Show” fares much better as the tart comic relief and Jeff Blumenkrantz is her zesty, funny counterpart, the pair not missing one comic beat. Which one is more deliciously campy, it’s hard to say. They both play imperious editorial employees of the mature Cusack’s magazine.

And the uncanny scenic design by Eugene Lee consists of a house-full of bluegrass musicians, who move in the Southern Gothic A-frame that contains them, back and forth across the stage at a dizzying pace, under the Scene Design Supervision of Edward Pierce that is as lively a choreographic move as the more subdued, but fun ones created by Josh Roberts.

All this is under the redoubtable direction of Walter Bobbie and “Bright Star” hums and purrs and jingle-jangles its’ gentle way into our cynical New York hearts and may indeed have found a permanent place there at the Cort Theater on W.48th Street for a long, long time.Bright Star 2

 

“Hands on a Hard Body” a Warm-hearted Musical Hits Home

I really did enjoy the recently opened “Hands on a Hard Body” the surprising, innovative musical hit that just opened on Broadway starring one of my favorite Bway actor/singers Hunter Foster. Yes, THAT Hunter Foster, who is the very, very talented older brother of the much more famous Sutton Foster, she who has now two Tonys and Hunter doesn’t even have one!

Hunter does however have a Tony nomination for “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Perhaps the super-duper “Hands on a Hard Body” will change all that. Certainly, it COULD. Hunter has the role of his career here playing the much-older-than-he-is, bad-ass, red-neck lead Benny Perkins.

Based on a much-respected but little-seen real-life documentary of the same name, “Hands on a Hard Body” traces the journeys of its’ dozen or so working class Texan characters, who have accepted the daunting challenge of standing with their hands on the hard body of a brand spanking new, gleaming, red as rose Nissan pick-up truck. Whoever can last the longest, in this rather unbelievable, but true competition wins the truck. And hopefully a bigger piece of the American pie, than all of them presently have.

Yes, a cast of have-nots, singing their Country and Western hearts out, to the tune of our sluggish economy and the stagnant social mobility that used be the American Dream.

Contempo, yes, to the max. But I liked that. And I REALLY liked all these characters, and their elucidation musically by Trey Anatasio (of “Phish”) and Amanda Green. And literarily by Pultizer-Prize winning librettist Doug Wright. Who wrote “I Am My Own Wife”. I liked this MUCH better than “Wife”, and was so pleased that there were relatable characters of all ages, sizes and genders singing their hillbilly hearts out.

The way the Musical Numbers are listed in the maddening program, without the names of the characters or actors who are singing them, it’s hard to single out just who sang what. But I found much to my delight(and hopefully yours, too) that every song was a winner.

Hunter Foster really dominates here and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did receive a Tony and/or Drama Desk nomination for his memorable meanie, whose big number was certainly “Hunt with the Big Dogs”, which ended the first act with a BANG! But he also sang many other terrific tunes, too.

Top-tapping music and amazingly interesting choreography by Sergio Trujillo kept “Hard Body” (and the red truck, too!) moving so much that you never noticed its’ seemingly static premise. Kudos are due, too, to its’ sharp director Neil Pepe.

Particularly so during Hawaiian belter Keala Settle’s roof-rasing “Joy of the Lord” which had the larger than life Ms. Settle pounding away on the truck until it turned it into a percussive instrument! Tony/Drama Desk and more nominations are CERTAINLY headed her way for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Giving her a run for her awards’ money in that category will be Dale Soules, whose Texas rasp, made me feel like she had just wandered in from the Grand Ole Opry, instead of an extensive career in theater.Her big number was “It’s a Fix!”

Also registering powerfully were Jon Rua as born-in-the-USA hispanic kid with a dream who wants to win the truck, so he can sell it and he can go to school and be a veterinarian. His soulful “Born in Loredo” is marvelously moving and mesmerizing. As is the Iraq war vet with PTSS, David Larsen,in his “Alone with Me” solo that also brings down the house. As do they all.

I love that a Broadway musical takes risks like “Hands on a Hard-Body” does. And reaches and fulfills them. I hope audiences find it as enjoyable and moving as I did!

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