The Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka was a discovery for me in the summer of 2014. My girlfriend at the time and I decided to have a stay-cation, the kids were off at camp if I recall correctly, we took some time off work and decided to book a bunch of shows. I looked around online and found this theater in Anoka was staging RENT. RENT is, if not my favorite show, it’s top 5…and maybe number 1. Micky had never seen it live, I had seen it 3 times already at that point. That long weekend will forever be etched in my heart. It’s the weekend I got engaged to the woman who occupies my heart and the seat next to me in the theater, and also as the weekend I saw the best production of RENT I’ve ever seen. That includes the front row center seats I had last month at the Orpheum. We loved it so much we took the kids to see it the next weekend. When I say kids, I mean teenagers. Ever since that performance I’ve been back to the Lyric at least once a season, and that will increase this year as their lineup was so good that we bought season tickets. If you haven’t been to Lyric Arts, do yourself a favor and book a show. There is not a bad seat in the house, I’ve sat in the back, off to the side, and front and center. In fact if you haven’t been I recommend booking a seat for their current show Bright Star which runs through Sept. 29th.
Bright Star is a musical written by Steve Martin (yes that Steve Martin) and Edie Brickell. This is not your typical musical though, these songs are done in the Bluegrass style of music. I was not that familiar with Bluegrass music, and you don’t need to be. It is not a polarizing musical style like say Jazz or Death Metal. It’s easy to listen to, it can be upbeat and joyous or soft and melancholy, but it was always beautiful and beautifully performed. I didn’t leave the theater singing any of the songs, but I’ve been listening to the original cast album on Spotify and it’s becoming more and more fixed in my mind. But as good as the music is, it’s the book that was the real star for me. I’m not going to spoiler the show and in fact I’m hesitant to say much of anything about it. I didn’t know anything about the story going in and I felt like I had been punched in the stomach about four times during the show. In a good way. Let’s just say it had this audience member leaking at the eyes on three separate occasions. It is sad at times but also joyful and uplifting. I hesitate to say more.
The set design is simple but clear, mostly conveyed via furniture and props moved on and off stage. The band was on stage raised on a platform that the action sometimes encompassed as well. The story swaps back and forth between two time lines. Some maybe confused by the first transition, but I found it to be an effective way on conveying the flashback. The lead actress Katie Strom Rozanas who plays Alice Murphy found the perfect ways to always make clear to us which age Alice she was playing. Along with the more obvious hair and wardrobe changes she had a youthful playfulness to the younger Alice and a stiff maturity to the older Alice that differentiated them quickly. That they were both real and truthful was what made it a success. There was a moment at the beginning of the performance that I got very worried, when the show started and Ms. Rozanas began signing I could not hear her, and I was in the front row. By the next time she appeared on stage what I can only assume was a microphone malfunction had been corrected. After that opening number it was smooth sailing, no issues hearing anyone.
The cast were all good, I’d like to single out a couple of the more exceptional cast members. A lot of really good lead work from the above mentioned Katie Strom Rozanas as Alice Murphy (at two ages), Chris Paulson as Jimmie Ray Dobbs (also at two ages) Cam Pederson as Billy Cane, and Maureen O’Malley as Margo. Top shelf Character work from Nykeigh Larson as Lucy, Carl Swanson as Daryl. Also a shotout to one of the ensemble Caitlin Featherstone whom I saw in Be More Chill last spring at the The Minneapolis Musical Theatre, kick yourself if you missed that show directed by Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha it was one of the highlights of the Twin Cities 2019 theater scene. Bright Star was ably directed by Scott Ford and the music director was Elise Santa. The musicians were spot with members of the cast accompanying them after the intermission for a song. A very talented cast and crew to be sure.