LOGAN – The crowd-pleasing production of the bluegrass musical “Bright Star” at the Ellen Eccles Theatre over the past weekend was an inspiring testament to the determined resilience of the local performing arts community.
Even when constrained by pandemic precautions, the actors and musicians assembled by Music Theatre West delivered a performance of the seedy southern gothic romance that was a rousting wake-up call to local residents who have been fearfully avoiding live theater events.
The weekend show, presented as part of CacheARTS’ ongoing holiday-themed Random Acts Community Performance Series, was a concert version of “Bright Star” that was pioneered by the original Broadway cast back in 2016. Stripped of all but essential dialogue and with minimal choreography, the MTW production still recaptured the heart and soul of the collaboration by comic Steve Martin and country-folk artist Edie Brickell — its music and songs.
The concert was also something of a reunion for some of its cast members, many of whom were veterans of a production of “Bright Star” staged by the Cache Theatre Company in 2019. From the musical’s opening chords to its final chorus, it was obvious that the MTW concert was something special for those returning performers and the audience quickly caught that same sense of enthusiasm.
The MTW cast was led by none other than Lindsey Kelstrom, a local theatrical treasure who is fast becoming a familiar face to Cache Valley audiences. Counting a solo of her theme “If You Knew My Story” during a previous Random Acts concert, this was Ms. Kelstrom’s third outing as Alice Murphy, the backwoods literary prodigy at the center of “Bright Star.” Although her characterization was always marvelous, Ms. Kelstrom has visibly grown more confident in that role over the past year. As always, if you close your eyes during any of Ms. Kelstrom’s powerful vocals, you could easily imagine that you’re listening to Patsy Cline – and it doesn’t even take that much imagination.
Ms. Kelstrom shared the stage with newcomer Alex Lambert, who was a breath of fresh air as her ill-fated teenage beau. Their duets were flirtatious, heartfelt and utterly convincing.
Daniel Francis and Elisabeth Spencer returned to their familiar roles in “Bright Star” as Billy and Margo, childhood sweethearts who haven’t quite realized that they’re all grown up now. Their roles were somewhat abbreviated in the concert version of the musical, but Francis and Ms. Spencer still managed to recapture the sweet comedy of their blissfully oblivious romance.
Also returning to familiar comedy relief roles were Hillary Peterson and Carson Younker, who delivered standout performances along with Landon Weeks, Trenton Bateman, John Brailsford and Judy Ludlow.
One way in which the concert version of “Bright Star” might be superior to the original is that the show’s outstanding choral ensemble got more opportunity to perform front and center. Those marvelous voices belonged to Amy Nisbet, Chrissy Webster, Jared Fillingim, Jared Gregersen, Kate Neeley, Maren Werndel, Melina McNees and Rachel Fillingim.
The concert’s singing was supported by a six-piece blue-grass band that gave “Bright Star” an entirely appropriate down-home twangy vibe. The talented band members were Jay Richards on keyboard, Kelin Gibbons on banjo, Jim Straub on bass, Megan Richards on cello, Robyn Peterson on drums and Clifton Richards playing the fiddle.
The Random Acts Community Performance Series will continue at the Eccles Theatre in downtown Logan through Dec. 23.