PLAY REVIEW: Catch VSU Theatre's 'Bright Star'

Oct. 27—Play Review

VALDOSTA — It's time to go back to live theatre.

Turn off Netflix, get off the couch, get out of the house and go see "Bright Star," Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance's latest production now playing.

People don't like being told what to do so don't look at this as an order but as a friendly bit of advice.

If you haven't been to see a live show in a while, this musical is the one to see. And if you've always wondered about live theatre, "Bright Star" is a great place to start.

The story, the music, the singing, the acting, the humor, the drama — "Bright Star" has it all and each one shines.

It's a cliche to say a show will make you laugh and cry but some times it's true. "Bright Star" is that show.

Mia Washington stars as Alice Murphy, the editor of a Southern literary magazine. The story moves back and forth between the 1940s after World War II and the 1920s, from Alice now and then.

The 1940s setting focuses on Billy Cane, played by Andrew Rowell, a young veteran who is an aspiring, talented writer wanting to work for Alice's magazine. Alice is a tough-minded editor, hardened by losing her baby years earlier.

The 1920s centers on the younger, precocious Alice who falls in love with Jimmy Ray Dobbs, played by Ian C. Bingham, telling the story of how she lost the love of her life and their baby.

"Rising Star" is based on a true story, lovingly told in this 2016 musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

Hank Rion, show director, performs several deft tricks. He knows when to let the story loose with humor, a certain song or a big dance number but he knows when to tighten the grip for more emotional moments. He'll have the audience tapping its toes to the bright soundtrack of bluegrass music in one scene, near tears in the next scene then laughing out loud in the next scene.

Rion navigates all of these waters with big, bold, brilliant strokes.

Sarah Wildes Arnett choreographs the dance moves, which blend square dance, swing and other steps throughout the performance. Her dances are breathtaking, energetic and lively.

Joe Mason leads the live band of fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo, piano, upright bass, etc. The band breathes mountain air into every scene of the show. Playing so good, Mason could take the band on the road as a bluegrass act playing other traditional hill songs after "Bright Star" closes next week.

At times, however, the instruments overpower the cast members and the singing is lost. That is my only complaint with this show.

That said, the cast is sublime.

Everyone hits all of the marks, be it a dance number, singing a song, telling a joke or something far more dramatic, whether in the spotlight or part of the company. Cast members are on from the moment they hit the stage as their hill folk characters to mingle with audience members 15 minute prior to the show starting and again during intermission through the big encore number during curtain call.

While each cast member earns and deserves the ovation that greeted each one at curtain call, Mia Washington, again, is the star of this show and she shines bright.

She finds the inner soul of the tough editor. She reveals Alice's heart and hurt, tenacity and vulnerability, humor and pathos, intellect and emotions. Washington creates a full human being with Alice — one backed by an incredible singing voice and stage presence.

You deserve to see her and hear her, along with the entire cast.

Catch a "Bright Star."

Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance presents "Bright Star," 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 27-29; 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30; 7:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, Oct. 31-Nov. 2, Sawyer Theatre, VSU Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood. More information, reservation: Call (229) 333-5973 or visit

The review is based on the Wednesday night dress rehearsal performance.