Bright Star will try the patience of even the most tenderhearted romantic | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Bright Star will try the patience of even the most tenderhearted romantic 

Grief and villainy are no match for optimism, dumb luck, and a banjo.

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Katie Stanley

Your ability to go along with this 2014 Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical may hinge on your general willingness to accept the see-through sentiment and plucky hokum that pervades the American musical stage. But given the level of baked-in, overearnest nostalgia, especially in director Ericka Mac's sparkly-eyed staging for BoHo Theatre, even the most romantic sap might ache for something with a bit more depth.

It's 1945, and young soldier Billy Cane returns from the war to small-town North Carolina only to find his mother has died, a trauma he successfully processes with about 32 measures of "She's Gone." An aspiring writer, Billy leaves his bookish maybe-girlfriend Margo and heads to Asheville, lying his way into a meeting with Alice Murphy, the imposing literary editor of the esteemed Asheville Southern Journal. Prickly, asocial Alice has quite a backstory, which began 23 years earlier in backwater Zebulon, where an intelligent, free-spirited girl with big dreams ran into predictable trouble. The show alternates between Billy's past and Alice's present (Jim Crow doesn't exist in either place) until they intertwine in a finale so contrived and saccharine it'll likely curl your toenails.

It's all told through a repetitive bluegrassish score and a radio-serial book that eschew nuance at most every turn, mistaking plot devices for characters, ultimately suggesting that grief and villainy are no match for optimism, dumb luck, and a banjo. It's mostly well sung, despite a rather muddy live band, although the incessantly circulating chorines make it seem like North Carolina is overrun with cheery zombies.   v

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