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Arena's Bright Star Provides Bright Light in Summer's Theatre Offerings


Entertainment is filled with popular and familiar duos – Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, Stiller & Meara, Martin & Lewis. But Martin & Brickell? Perhaps their partnership is surprising to some, but the chance to see their collaboration, the WWII era musical Bright Star, is as close as Arena Dinner Theatre.

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell debuted their musical on Broadway in 2016, and despite great critical reception, it ran for just four months. But fortunately for Fort Wayne, avid theatre participants and attendees were well aware of Bright Star, a gem of a musical with Martin’s well-written book and Martin and Brickell’s astonishing songs. One local stage regular, very familiar to those who attend theatre or musical performances, had long hoped to bring Bright Star to one of our community stages. This coming weekend and next, Todd Frymier’s direction of Bright Star continues at Arena Dinner Theatre.

“I’d been hoping to bring it to Fort Wayne ever since I heard Bright Star and fell in love with it,” Frymier said. “I saw the script, and it was nominated for Tonys, but it came along at the same time as Hamilton which won everything that year. I love Steve Martin a lot and the things he’s written. But it went on the backburner as something that I’d love to do, and then the pandemic came along. But as Arena was making plans again, they wanted to do something uplifting for their upcoming season and called me.”

Although the production ran into a few COVID issues, rehearsals brought together what Frymier calls “a stellar cast,” one which knocked it out of the park on opening night last Friday. From the heartbreaking “Please, Don’t Take Him” to the rousing “Another Round,” the cast was more than up to the material, which is breathtaking. For audiences who may more typically attend musical theatre standards, classics which feature iconic songs, it can be a revelation to hear a musical for the first time, to really listen to the words instead of amiably mouthing along to the familiar tunes. Brickell’s lyrics pack a wallop, and the bluegrass score, less surprising when you consider Martin’s banjo-playing skills, brings those lyrics to life in remarkable fashion. The storyline is engaging, both heartbreaking and uplifting, and Martin brings ample samples of his humor as many of the lines bring roars of laughter from the audience.



The cast cannot be better. Heather Closson’s choreography and hilarious byplay with costar Jimmy Mitchell is just one example of what the production has to offer, while Lindsay Hoops and Eric Smead provide a charming love story which builds to a beautiful conclusion. But the two leads – Darby LeClear as Alice Murphy and Jordan Gameon as Jimmy Ray Dobbs – particularly shine as the star-crossed couple at the center of the story. Their voices are individually special and when combined brings goosebumps and even tears to the audience. Frymier did a commendable job putting together the cast and leading them to some unforgettable performances.

“The cast is just stellar,” he said. “Darby LeCrear is the engine that runs it, and Jordan Gameon, Lindsay Hoops, Erik Smead, Christopher Murphy, Brad Beauchamp…and there’s so much talent in the ensemble. Darby has just taken the role and embodies it, and it’s not an easy role. It’s some tough material, and vocally she’s a powerhouse. She does a phenomenal job.”

Frymier thinks that the story itself is relatable and brings many important themes to the stage.

“It’s about love and forgiveness. There are a lot of common themes for everyone – trust and love, forgiveness and redemption. And it reminds us to always hope.”

Tickets are $40 and include a dinner provided by Walnut Hill Catering. For more information about ordering tickets, visit arenadinnertheatre.org.

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