Excitement rocketed like a streak of lightning through The Old Globe rehearsal hall last week as actor, author, composer Steve Martin and singer/songwriter Edie Brickell showed up to tout the premiere of their musical “Bright Star.”
“We’re here for a sneak preview of the show,” said The Old Globe Theatre Artistic Director Barry Edelstein. “The score is new, the story is new, and we’ve been involved with the project for a little over two years now, since Steve Martin told me about this extraordinary collaboration with Edie Brickell, another giant in this business.”
Although they knew each other for 20 years, it wasn’t until Martin (“Picasso at the Lapin”) and Brickell (“Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars”) ran into each other at a function that she told him she would love to write songs for him.
He played her a tune; she wrote a vocal. He liked it so well he sent her more tunes, and eventually they had a 13-song bluegrass album, “Love Has Come For You.” At the 2014 Grammy Awards, the title track won for Best American Roots Song.
“We discussed how much we love the musicals we came up with,” Martin said. “We had affection for those melodies and confidence in them. We just needed a story.”
Brickell happened to come across a 100-year-old newspaper article that sparked the idea for the story of “Bright Star,” so she and Martin began to work on the 25 songs in the play.
The action takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina between 1923 and 1945. Billy Cane (A.J. Shively), a young soldier just back from World War II, is happy he’s home. When he meets Alice Murphy (Carmen Cusack), the editor of a southern literary journal, a powerful secret changes their lives.
Martin, excited about his Globe collaborators, said, “We are working with the A-Team — Walter (Bobbie, director), Rob (Berman, musical director), Josh (Rhodes, choreographer) — and the cast and crew in this place are wonderful. The Old Globe has been such a rich experience. Along with Barry’s contribution and energy, the backstage people are so talented and great.”
Brickell added, “We love working at The Old Globe. It has elevated everything we brought in. It’s opened new doors in the world that shocks and thrills me.”
Rhodes — whose choreography was so fun to watch — calls the musical a rather interesting piece. “It’s very funny and the style of music moves around as it navigates our lives between who our parents want us to be and who we want to be. As a metaphor, there is the bright beacon of a star that helps us find our own Bright Star.”
Treated to snippets of a few scenes, the story and music was enticing. When a radio announcer (Scott Wakefield) says in a booming voice, “Folks, we got us a young soldier just back from victory, who wants to say hello to his mama in Hayes Creek,” one instantly feels the era.
The face of Billy Cane is jubilant as he addresses his mother, “Hey mama, it’s your boy, Billy,” he says. “I know you’re listening cause you always are. I know what I want to do now that I’m home, and I can’t wait to tell you.”
Cut to another scene where two of Alice Murphy’s co-workers are inviting her to go bowling. She declines, even when told soldiers returning from war are asking about her. “All they want to do is swing dance, and I don’t know how,” she says, and then she breaks into a beautiful song, “Way Back in the Day.”
Every heartfelt word tells the story of pain and loss. When she starts to move in her memory, someone gently slips the shoes off her heels as she steps, then sails, across the stage into a white dress. It’s a magical moment in what promises to be one of many in this show.
• IF YOU GO: “Bright Star” runs Sept. 13-Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets: From $49 at (619) 234-5623 and TheOldGlobe.org