Comedian, musician and actor Steve Martin got together with singer songwriter Edie Brickell to create Bright Star, now on a national tour and making its way to Houston in a courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars. The result is a musical filled with Americana, bluegrass and country influences that received five Tony Award nominations for its Broadway show (unfortunately that was in 2016 the year that Hamilton essentially swept the field).
Set in the American South of the 1920s and '40s, Bright Star spans the decades to tell the story of North Carolina magazine editor Alice Murphy, described by Audrey Cardwell, the actress who plays her on tour as "an incredibly intelligent, strong woman."
"We meet Alice when she’s about 38 years old in the 1940s and working as an editor for the Ashville Southern Journal and then we go back in time and we get to know Alice when she was 16 years old and growing up and learning and dealing with the difficulties that come along with growing up in the South," says Cardwell, who is originally from Alabama.
Cardwell saw Bright Star about two years ago on Broadway (it won the 2016 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and Best Score and the Drama Desk Award for Oustanding Music) "I was immediately drawn to the show because well first the score stuck out to me as unlike anything I'd heard before on Broadway and it’s this incredible mix of Americana and there are elements of bluegrass and country. It's this incredible Southern sound that represents the time period as well as the region.
"In addition to that, this role is really exciting to explore as well as the emotional journey this character goes on every night in the play."
She sees it as an example of how the face of musical theater continues to evolve. "I think the beauty of any art form is that it's going to move and grow with the times, with the development of humanity. I believe that's happening now. I think we’re starting to shift the stories that we’re telling. There's a renaissance going on with strong females at the center of stories," she says. "We have a woman at the center. She drives the story; she tells the story; it is her story. That’s a powerful beautiful thing. The growth and continued development of the art form is important and it needs to continue to grow to spread its wings, to gain a wider audience of different races and cultures and ethnicities and backgrounds. Anyone should feel welcome at the theater."
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Cardwell's path that led her to musical theater began with her doing community theater when she was 12 for fun. "From there it just kind of took off and I found any opportunity I could in my home town to continue performing, to continue doing musical theater. " She got her degree in musical theater from Penn State, moved to New York City and went on her first tour a couple of months after she graduated.
Bright Star has 24 cast members in the two act that runs about two and a half hours with intermission, Cardwell says. "There's a lot of comedy and the music is completely captivating," she says.
"The story is one about faith, strength and resilience against and through tough times and I think that’s a huge reason to come see the show. Is that everyone has gone through something difficult. Everybody can relate."
Performances of Bright Star are scheduled for March 13-25 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $30-$108.