REVIEW: Miami’s “Bright Star” Glows

Review by Liz Eichler 

Bright Star, the bluegrass musical by Edie Brickell and Steve Martin, graces Miami University’s Gates-Abegglen Theatre from November 15 through 19, 2023. Bright Star is a moving tale of love, redemption and storytelling against the backdrop of the American South in the 1920s and ’40s. 

The Plot of Bright Star

We first meet Alice Murphy, in “If you Knew My Story.” She is a literary agent who has been searching for a lost child. Through flashbacks we see her as a wild teen, who falls in love, but is prevented from sharing a life with that love by parents who want something different for their daughter and son. We also meet Billy, a young man back from WWII, who dreams of being a writer and eventually meets Mrs. Murphy, hoping she’d publish his works. Too much more will give away the plot. 


Director Bekka Eaton has created some charming vignettes, as she skillfully guides the cast and crew through this show, sure to pluck on your heart strings.  Filled with bluegrass music and a lively small orchestra, led by Music Director Ryan Heinrich, each scene resonates with authenticity and emotional depth. 

Cast of Bright Star at Miami University
Cast of Bright Star at Miami University


The cast, led by Lauren Claxton as Alice Murphy, will remind you that Miami has a great assortment of rich talent. Claxton has a lovely voice, and the acting ability to capture young Alice as well as Alice twenty years older. Will Rozak as Jimmy Ray Dobbs, delivers a performance filled with warmth, love, and emotion–as well as a strong voice. He also shows the difference between a young Jimmy Ray and one twenty years later. Their hearts are in their faces as well as their voices. Their duets are all wonderful, but “Always Will” is especially sweet. 

John Kushman as Billy Cane, is young, eager, and believable. With Alessandra Kelley as Margo, his hopeful sweetheart, they create beautiful harmonies. Kelley’s “Asheville” is especially well done. 

Hopefully you have seen the comedic side of Tod Fish in previous Miami shows, but as Mayor Dobbs, he creates a character you want to despise. His and Rozak’s “A Man’s Gotta Do” is strong. 

Featured cast includes Liza Dwyer, Sam Vendramin, Anders Burck, Annabel Wildermuth, Seth Cousin, Jobe Vogelsong and Robby Mumfrey.  The ensemble includes Abby Sokol, Benjamin Jones, Jobe Vogelsong, Molly Stewart, Nate Ivy, Ren Betz, Robby Mumphrey, Sam Vendramin, Samantha Lapp, Sara Rose Detwiler, Sophie Wertz, and Stephen Lee. Each member of the ensemble has created intriguing background stories, making them interesting to watch as they liven up the town or the big city of Asheville, NC. 

Creative Team for Bright Star

They perform Ashley Goos choreography well. The dance numbers are executed with precision and passion, and allows for a large cast of movers with a few featured dancers. Heinrich’s music direction ensures that the orchestra and cast are in perfect harmony.The live music is twangy and peppy, and the Entre’acte allows the Orchestra to be featured. 

Gion DeFrancesco’s simple scenic design transports the audience to the past and the South, providing a visually interesting fence backdrop and multiple rolling set pieces (including an early ice box). Costume designer Lisa Martin-Stuart authentically captures the clothing of the 1920s and ’40s, and provides multiple individually intriguing outfits. They’ve gone to great lengths to ensure authenticity in shoes, underwear, outerwear, hair and make-up. Ben Trader and Marly Wooster’s lighting design contributes to the overall mood and impact of the performance, keeping us focused on the key action on the large stage. 

Cast of Bright Star at Miami University
Cast of Bright Star at Miami University

Bottom Line

Bright Star is a captivating and uplifting tale, well presented by the Miami University Theatre team.  It weaves together plot, music and dance and shows that even though a journey may be dark, everyone deserves a happy ending. It is a shining example of theatrical storytelling.


Tickets for Bright Star are available at The Miami University Box Office HERE.  Runtime is approximately two hours and ten minutes.

Coming up next is Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine’s by Madhuri Shekar running March 13-17, 2024, then Matt Cox’s hilarious Puffs  May 1-5, 2024.