Regulus // Issue 2 // August 2023
Rector, Christine Leighton, congratulated the cast and crew on their dazzling performances, and says many glowing emails were received about the show, including this from an audience member: “We were all astounded as we were wrenched through a full range of emotions from beginning to end – shock, tears, hurt, warmth, and hysterical laughter. We are so very privileged to have such incredible teachers and directors to lead our future ‘bright stars’.”
Productions at St Andrew’s College don’t tend to shy away from big themes, and Bright Star was no exception.
The show explores the secrets people carry, the journey to make sense of individual’s experiences, and the seemingly disconnected pieces of peoples’ lives that finally fall into place in order for them to discover the truth, says Director, Laurence Wiseman. “What makes Bright Star even more intriguing, is that it is based on a true story, in some ways a horrific story, but in other ways a beautiful tale of love, loss, and connection.”
Written by US comedian Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Bright Star cleverly switches back and forth in time between 1925 and 1945, highlighting how decisions made 20 years earlier can continue to impact on the present. It follows the intertwined stories of Alice Murphy, a literary editor, and Billy Cane, a young soldier and wannabe writer, returning to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina from World War II.
The exceptional cast, superb band, and expert production team, including Director, Laurence Wiseman, Musical Director, Duncan Ferguson, and Production Manager, Ginnie Thorner, worked tirelessly over many months
to create the show.
“The cast strived for excellence in all they did and can be very proud of the performances they achieved. It was a joy and unforgettable experience for the whole production team to bring Bright Star to life. The is the tenth Senior Production many of us have worked on together.”
The show’s stunning score featured bluegrass, country, and folk music with catchy melodies that were skilfully and sensitively played by the live band, which featured a number of current students, an Old Collegian, and special guests on banjo.
To accompany the fantastic soundtrack, choreographer, Hana Pearce (OC 2019), created some exciting choreography for the large cast (with support from Ginnie Thorner and Xanthe Pearce – Year 12), which Hana sent from Spain where she is currently studying.
With the new Gough Family Theatre due to be completed by the end of the year, this is the last Senior Production to be held in Gym 1. Any constraints this may have created were definitely not visible in the show, with a great story, mesmerising performances by the young performers, staging that seamlessly switched between the pre- and post-war eras, a brilliant set, lighting, and costumes, and toe-tapping live music, completely transporting the audience back almost 100 years to a tale of intrigue, heartbreak, and love in the Southern United States.
Bright Star opened in spectacular style with the entire ensemble supporting literary agent, Alice Murphy (Xanthe Pearce – Year 12), in the vibrant production number If You Knew My Story.
Xanthe was exceptional throughout the show in the pivotal role of Alice, with total command over her powerhouse singing, and the ability to convey the character’s complex emotions. She effortlessly switched between playing the younger more carefree version of Alice, and the older, more serious character. It was a performance that could have graced any stage.
Jack Flanagan (Year 12) also delivered a standout performance as Billy Cane, who returns from the war, who is reunited with his loving father, Daddy Cane (Jonah Cropp – Year 13 another accomplished performer) and his childhood friend now local bookshop owner, Margo (Jenna Howell – Year 12 who shone in the role) and discovers his mother has died. Jack’s ability to portray the naivety and vulnerability of Billy was a delight to watch.
Billy dreamt of being a writer and submitted some of his stories to The Asheville Southern Journal, run by Alice. After arriving at the journal’s offices, he was dismissed by Alice’s assistants, cynical Daryl (Marco Leighs) and worldy-wise Lucy (Poppy Rumble – both Year 13), who played the comedy of these roles to the hilt. They were both hilarious, with their comedic timing and physical comedy often leaving the audience in stitches. After reading Billy’s stories, Alice saw something in him and decided to publish them. Billy moved to Asheville, leaving a broken-hearted Margo, behind.
The story then flashed back to 1925, when a young Alice flirts with her sweetheart, Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Hugo Ranken – Year 12), another strong and confident singer and performer. Xanthe and Hugo had great chemistry and their song, Whao, Mama, with an ensemble, was great fun. Soon after, Alice discovers she is pregnant, and Jimmy Ray’s powerful, malevolent father, Mayor Josiah Dobbs (played with relish by an impressive Struan Gordon – Year 13), makes it clear he has other plans for Jimmy Ray.
Act 1 ends in heartbreak with Alice and her mother, Mama Murphy (played with motherly warmth by Alexandra Shepherd – Year 12), learning that Mayor Dobbs and Alice’s staunchly religious father, Daddy Murphy (Tamaroa Connelly – Year 12, who has great stage presence), had struck a deal to remove the baby from Alice and put it up for adoption. The Mayor departs with the baby in a valise and boards a train. When no one is looking, he throws it into the river below, the act ending with a reprise of the song, A Man’s Gotta Do.
In the second act, all the secrets are revealed, the puzzle pieces fall into place, and the story reaches its conclusion. It is back to 1945, and an ailing Mayor Dobbs confesses to Jimmy Ray what he did to the baby. Margo is missing Billy. Alice urges Billy to write more about his hometown, and they agree to meet at Hayes Creek, where he invites her to his father’s home. There, Alice sees the valise her baby was taken away in 20 years ago, and the small baby jacket she knitted for him. Daddy Cane reveals he found Billy as a baby in the river and he and his wife adopted him. Alice discovers she is Billy’s birth mother, and Billy runs off.
A few weeks later, all is resolved when Alice tells Jimmy Ray what happened to their baby and they are reunited with Billy, who accepts them as his birth parents. To ward off a flirtatious Lucy, Margo introduces herself as Billy’s fiancée, which is a pleasant surprise to him. Jimmy Ray proposes to Alice, and it is a happy ending all around.
Others who impressed in the show’s smaller roles were Stanford (Edward Pitts – Year 12), Max (Jake Elvidge – Year 11), Edna (Mia Walker – Year 13), Florence (Portia Bennie – Year 13), Dr Norquist (Matthew Lee – Year 12) and Government Clerk (Sarah Heffernan – Year 11). Portia Bennie, Mia Walker and Chantelle Xiong (Year 12) did a wonderful job playing the Spirits, who appeared at key poignant moments throughout the show. The dedicated, enthusiastic ensemble displayed great energy, sang beautiful harmonies, and took obvious enjoyment from the many song and dance numbers in the show, with the hoedown number, Picnic Dance, and Another Round with Lucy, Daryl and Billy, particular highlights.
The themes of the enduring power of human connection, and the ability for women to forge their own path, even when faced with the toughest challenges, were beautifully portrayed in the moving and memorable performances of the cast, which left Bright Star’s appreciative audiences both uplifted and inspired.