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A “Bright Star” is born at ORU

ORU will be the first to premiere the Broadway musical “Bright Star” in Oklahoma.

The small town of Hayes Creek, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, becomes the epicenter of unbelievable events and heartbreaking tragedy. A middle-aged woman spent her life telling the stories of her fellow citizens as an editor for the paper in the 1940s. However, she decided to share her own story. Throughout the journey of her story, starting back in 1923, Margo Crawford sings her life to audiences in bluegrass style while depicting hardship, optimism and heart.

ORU students Alyssa McGuire and Braden Clapp | Photo by Alejandro Contreras

Steve Martin, actor and comedian, and Edie Brickell, singer-songwriter, collaborated to make a bluegrass Americana musical experience based on their 2013 album, “Love Has Come For You.” Martin and Brickell workshopped the musical in 2013 and premiered in 2014. However, despite good reviews, the musical came in a time when most musical-goers preferred “Hamilton,” “Waitress” and “School of Rock.” Despite Martin, Brickell and Paul Simon, singer-songwriter and Brickell’s husband, pouring over one million dollars to keep “Bright Star” running through the 2016 Tony awards, the musical closed in 2016, and its tour closed in 2018.

Laura Holland, chair of the theatre, dance and visual arts department, was disappointed when the tour did not come to Tulsa or anywhere else in Oklahoma. Holland became determined to bring “Bright Star” to ORU. Typically, she said that musicals and plays go to the professional theaters first and then go on to regional theaters and eventually trickle down to the collegiate level. However, “Bright Star” took a different journey.

ORU students Clare Holt and Timothy Conn | Photo by Alejandro Contreras

As soon as the musical rights were up for grabs in Oklahoma, Holland put in a request for it. Surprisingly, ORU received the rights before the professional or regional theaters. And so, a small university in Tulsa became the first to premiere “Bright Star” in Oklahoma.

The theatre department went into full swing once the rights were received. Posters hung around the dormitory elevators proclaiming casting calls. Students flooded into the theatre for try outs. Holland and casting made their picks, throwing production into full swing.

“I’m so proud of these kids; they are my kids,” said Holland.

Timothy Conn, an acting major playing Jimmy Ray, loves that the cast is close knit. While having practice together is a large amount of time to be together, many of the cast members are in the same major and classes.

“It’s like a family; we quarrel, we bicker, and we can get annoyed with each other very quickly, but in the end, we love each other, and we’re just trying to help each other along,” said Conn.

The cast agreed that the story came with an impact for ORU.

Photo by Alejandro Contreras

“It’s made me realize how far people will go and how important love and forgiveness is,” said Alyssa McGuire, an acting major playing Margo Crawford.

Clare Holt, playing Alice Murphy, was overjoyed to find out that “Bright Star” was being put on.

“The only CD in my car is ‘Bright Star.’ I’ve been listening to it for three years,” Holt said.

In an interview, Edie Brickell said what drew her to the musical was that miracles always interested her. The story pulls on dark themes and true events but always keeps hope and optimism in the lyrics.

“I hope it gives [audiences] so much joy and light and that they walk out of the room knowing that forgiveness is a powerful thing and can change people’s lives and to not hold on to grief, but to give way to hope,” said Braden Clapp, an acting major playing Billy Cane.

Despite the hardships and turmoil the characters face at the hands of their own decisions, Holland believes that the message is that “regardless [of poor decisions], miracles can change your life.”

Conn agrees, and he hopes that audiences gain a similar feeling that he had, saying, “There is hope, there is purpose and something good is coming along whether you know it or not.”

Though the original production had many hardships due to other musicals playing on Broadway at the time, its journey followed the themes of the musical. Though there may be a bleakness over a situation, there is a time for light, rebirth, optimism, joy and redemption.