Epiphany Church prepares local premiere of Steve Martin’s bluegrass ‘Bright Star’

Tommy Cole (Billy Cane) and Margo Russ (Alice Murphy) appear in Epiphany Lutheran Church's production of "Bright Star," slated July 14-18. CONTRIBUTED
Tommy Cole (Billy Cane) and Margo Russ (Alice Murphy) appear in Epiphany Lutheran Church's production of "Bright Star," slated July 14-18. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: MEGAN WEAN SEARS

Credit: MEGAN WEAN SEARS

Steve Martin’s claim to fame is being a wild and crazy guy, but did you know he received Tony Award nominations for writing and composing a bluegrass musical?

His 2016 musical “Bright Star,” which had a short-lived Broadway run of 109 regular performances and 30 preview performances, will have its local premiere July 14-18 courtesy of the Epiphany Players Drama Ministry of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville.

Featuring lyrics by singer/songwriter Edie Brickell, who also co-wrote the music with Martin, “Bright Star” is set in North Carolina and is inspired by a true story. Spanning decades and prominently incorporating flashbacks, it tells the heartbreaking yet uplifting saga of literary editor Alice Murphy. When Alice meets a young solider just home from World War II, he awakens her longing for the child she once lost. Haunted by their unique connection, Alice sets out on a journey to understand her past, leading to a transformative moment for both.

“The show (speaks to) the power of hope, forgiveness and true unconditional love,” said Margo Russ, a recent graduate of Wright State University’s acting program who portrays Alice. “It’s a beautiful love story… a love story between a mother and her child. I think that story is incredibly beautiful.”

Margo Russ (Alice Murphy) appears in Epiphany Lutheran Church's production of "Bright Star," slated July 14-18. CONTRIBUTED
Margo Russ (Alice Murphy) appears in Epiphany Lutheran Church's production of "Bright Star," slated July 14-18. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: MEGAN WEAN SEARS

Credit: MEGAN WEAN SEARS

“‘Bright Star’ deals with the very long-term ramifications of one decision,” said director/choreographer Megan Wean Sears and music director David Brush in a joint statement. “But the pain and sorrow that figures heavily into (the) story is met with the promise of a miracle. In good and bad times alike, we are a people of faith – and sometimes faith is tested, worn and tattered. But faith prevails. (This) show reminds us of the strength we find in ourselves, in each other and in our roots.”

The toe-tapping, folk and gospel-tinged score includes “If You Knew My Story,” “What Could Be Better,” “Asheville,” “Sun’s Gonna Shine,” the title number, and the stirring anthem “At Long Last.”

“It is appropriate ‘Bright Star’ is steeped in the deep tradition of American Appalachia – gospel and bluegrass – music that reminds us where we came from and where we are going,” added Sears and Brush. “The music is beautiful.”

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In a typical summer, Epiphany would cast upward of 70 performers including small children. But in a break from tradition to allow for smoother transition into live performance post-pandemic, Sears chose not to double-cast, opting for a production featuring no more than 25 actors. In addition to Russ, principal players include Tommy Cole as Billy Cane, Nick Bradley as Jimmy Ray Dobbs, Riley Francis as Margo Crawford, John Benjamin as Daddy Cane, Charlotte Kunesh as Young Alice Murphy, Nick Abouzeid as Young Jimmy Ray Dobbs, Christian Schaefer as Mayor Josiah Dobbs, Desmond Kingston as Daryl Ames, Kath Meyer as Lucy Grant, Brett Greenwood as Daddy Murphy, and Jessica Pettit as Mama Murphy.

“Everybody is on stage the entire time,” said Sears, stressing the show’s theme of community. “(Basically) no one leaves the stage. I want this show to feel like the audience is being invited into this home with this family.”

This year, Epiphany’s drama ministry is celebrating 30 years and 30 summer musicals. Kay Frances Wean, Epiphany’s longtime director posthumously inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame in 2013, built a family core within the ministry which remains strong to this very day.

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“It means a lot to me to be able to do this show with this group of people because they truly are a second family to me,” echoed Russ, whose Epiphany credits include Martha in “The Secret Garden” and featured soloist in “Why We Tell the Story.” “I have grown up doing theater with some of these people since I was 7 years old. So, to be able to return to theater with them after so long apart and to be telling this story in particular just means the world to me.”

“‘Bright Star’ is about a God who puts people in our lives at exactly the time when we need them – and often just when we think all is lost,” added Sears and Brush. “Come up on the porch. We’ve been expecting you. We’ve got a good story to tell.”

Contact this contributing writer at rflorence2@gmail.com.

How to go:

What: “Bright Star”

Where: Epiphany Lutheran Church, 6430 Far Hills Avenue, Centerville

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Reserved seating is $15

Tickets: Visit epiphanydayton.org/summer-musical

For more information: Call 937-433-1449 ext. 103 or email drama@epiphanydayton.org.