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Musicians join actors onstage in this moveable house during East Allegheny's "Bright Star," with bluegrass/country music by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo)
If you go...
||East Allegheny High School presents “Bright Star”
Where: 1150 Jacks Run Road, North Versailles Twp.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 11, 12 and 13, with an additional matinee at 2 p.m. April 13
Tickets: $12 for adults and $8 for students and senior citizens for the evening performances. All tickets are $6 for the matinee. Available at the main office in the high school, by calling (412) 824-8012, or will be sold at the box office beginning 45 minutes before each performance. Additional show information at www.eachoir.org.
“Laugh, cry, and find your way home again,” is the tagline director/producer Amanda Rosco suggested as a way for East Allegheny students to explain the essence of this year’s musical, “Bright Star.”
Written and composed by Steve Martin -- comedian, actor, musician, author, playwright and producer -- and Edie Brickell, the musical is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina just after World War II, with flashbacks to 1923.
The music is a mixture of bluegrass and country, and grew out of their collaboration on “Love Has Come for You,” a 2013 Grammy-winning bluegrass album with Brickell’s lyrics and singing and Martin on banjo.
“Bright Star” opened on Broadway in 2016, and was nominated for a number of awards.
Rosco said she remembers “Bright Star” performances from the Tony Awards. After doing some research, she concluded, “Wow, this stuff is really good.
“I’m always looking for the best fit,” she said when deciding what musical to produce each year. “I knew I had a lot of really strong females, so I needed a show that would feature them. It’s a great blend of flavors in a really nice way. I fell in love with this show and decided, with the kids coming in, it had possibilities.”
East Allegheny’s production, which runs for three evening performances and a matinee April 11, 12 and 13, marks the Pittsburgh area premiere of “Bright Star.”
After the first round of auditions, Rosco said she felt confident there was enough talent to fill the male leads as well.
Because musicians join the cast onstage during the show, Rosco also had to consider what student talent and adults would be available to produce the bluegrass sound – something fairly untraditional for a high school musical.
Chris Rayman as Billy Cane, Isaac Richardson as Jimmy Ray Dobbs, Taylar Getsy as Alice Murphy, Ashley Pawlak as dance captain/Spirit/Edna, and Mary Protheroe as Ruth. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo)
Many of the leads said that once they learned the storyline, heard the songs and music, they were ready to undertake the challenge of performing something quite different.
Junior Taylar Getsy portrays successful magazine editor Alice Murphy, who greets the audience with “If You Knew My Story,” as she sets the stage for a musical narrative.
Once she knew the plot, Taylar said she set her sights on Alice.
“Obviously, I wanted Alice badly,” she said. “I worked as hard as I could to get the role. I love her character so much. I watched ‘Designing Women’ to get an idea for the office scenes, and I used myself as a model for her younger years (in the flashbacks). Hands down, this is my favorite musical. I also have at least a dozen costume changes, and I love my costumes.”
Like other students, Taylar said she was not familiar with bluegrass and definitely not with the show, but came to love the music and songs.
“I love singing, and there are so many good songs,” she said, finding it difficult to choose a favorite. “‘Way Back in the Day’ is really fun. My favorite duet is ‘I Had a Vision’ with Isaac.”
Sophomore Isaac Richardson plays young Alice’s love interest, Jimmy Ray Dobbs, who also is the mayor’s son.
He said he decided to audition based on good memories from being in the musical last year, and how much fun it was to get to know students he would not normally have met.
Isaac said at first it was a little difficult transitioning between his character at a young age and the older man he becomes.
“There’s a lot of difference from the young me to the old me, so it was really difficult at first,” he said, “but I love performing.”
Tapping into his “softer emotions” was the biggest challenge, Isaac said. “I’m good at being loud and mad, but this is softer stuff. The kind of love Jimmy Ray and Alice had was real. Alice was 16 years old, and she gave up everything.”
Sophomore Chris Rayman is Billy Cane, an aspiring writer who tries to convince Alice to publish his stories.
“He’s just returned from World War II and his mother has died,” Chris said. “He tells Alice a lie (using a man as a reference who is dead), and she knows it was fake, but she believes in me and you can see the bond forming.
“I’m very happy with my role,” he said. “I watched it and decided I really wanted to be Billy Cane. I love the music. To me, it’s the best soundtrack ever.”
The cast rehearses one of the musical numbers. East Allegheny’s production marks the premiere of “Bright Star” in the Greater Pittsburgh region. It opened on Broadway in 2016. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo)
Like other students, senior Mary Protheroe said although she had never heard of “Bright Star” before, learning all the music, the singing and dancing, has made her a bluegrass fan.
She plays Lucy, one of Alice’s employees, and is one of the dance captains. Mary said she really likes “Another Round,” a song featuring her character, another worker, Billy Cane, and the rest of the cast.
“There is so much going on in that number, so much life,” she said. “This definitely has been a challenge, but it was good to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.”
Senior Ashley Pawlak wears several hats as dance captain, a spirit, and Edna.
“I love this style,” she said of the music and dancing. “It’s definitely very different.” She credited choreographer Marty Savolskis with incorporating the style into the dance numbers. Along with Mary, Ashley likes “Another Round,” which she described as “jazzy and a really fun dance.”
Ashley said costume designer Leah Clocko has worked hard not only to produce clothing appropriate to the time periods, but to adapt it to the dancers and characters.
“This is my favorite storyline show,” Ashley said. “It’s so emotional and relatable. It’s amazing music and our director and everyone in the cast is so good.”
Mary says that although not many people will be familiar with “Bright Star” in advance, audiences should “just come in and experience something new.”
Taylar Getsy as Alice Murphy, Isaac Richardson as Jimmy Ray Dobbs, Kalei Getsy as Margo, Chris Rayman as Billy Cane, Bryce Schmeltz as Daddy Cane, Erik Beswick as Mayor Josiah Dobbs, Connor Geary as Daddy Murphy, Lydia Richardson as Mama Murphy, Mary Protheroe as Lucy, Trent Cornell as Daryl, Christian Williams as Stanford, Ashley Pawlak as Edna, Dominique Bannister as Florence, Jenna Starcher as Nurse Norquist, Josh Switzer as Max, and Makenzie Rucker as Clerk.
Spirits are Samantha Balogh, Mackenzie Cahill, Sydney Cochran, Ashley Pawlak, and Taylor Tempest.
Ensemble includes Miranda Ace, Grace Brooks, Dalton Cohen, Abby Delisi, Felicia Englert, Aidan Foscoe, Chris Jewel, Marissa Jones, Casey Kopa, Julie Kustra, Nate Perez, Mikayla Petrosky, Baleigh Quinn, Samantha Robl,
Madison Rucker, Kaya Ruffolo, Joey Saccameno, and Kayla Shearer.
Student producers are Miranda Ace and Erik Beswick. Dance captains are Ashley Pawlak and Mary Protheroe. MPA is Taylar Getsy.
“Bright Star” pit is conducted by Mr. Steve Ehrlich, with Alyssa DePaoli on violin, Alden Voss on viola, Nick Keleschenyi on cello, Ben Edwards on bass, Mr. Eric Brockschmidt on mandolin, Mr. Enzo Chiodi on banjo, Mr. Duane Davis on guitar, Mrs. Pam Scott on piano, and Mr. Bill Yadesky playing percussion.
Amanda Rosco is the director and producer. Other key personnel are Assistant Producer Kaitlyn Gida; Orchestra Director Steve Ehrlich; Choreographer Marty Savolskis; Stage Manager Emily Yanovich; Set Designer Sarah Frank; Set Carpentry Zach Hilbert; Set Construction by Zach Hilbert, Steve Hilbert, Jon Bach, and Michael Russo; Artistic Design Sarah Frank; Painting Crew members are Sarah Frank, Lyn Rosenbayger, Diane Rayman, Renee Englert, Rhonda Tempest, Leanne Cornell, Lakyn Holly, Dallyss White, and members of the cast and crew.
Costume design by Leah Klocko, with sewing by Debbie Kresich. Dresser is Nora Keleschenyi, with props by Karen Humphrey, Lakyn Holly and Michelle Getsy. Sculpture is by Madisyn Montgomery, with lighting design by Chazz Malott, Sarah Frank, and Amanda Rosco. Mackenzie Freed-Depastino leads the lighting crew, with stage crew members Larrissa Bloom, Chloe Threets, Becca Mattis, Samantha Spate, Teena Morris, Alyssa Machtley, and Dominic Oto.
Spotlights by Aleja Thomas and Curtis Amoh, with Sound Design by Gavin Bordogna, Jennie MacLaughlin, Riley McAndrew, and Nick Shelley. Hair and make-up are by Emily Yanovich, the cast and crew, with T-shirts by Excel Sportswear and print materials by Rob Gutwald, EA Graphics Department. Program by Amanda Rosco, with photography by Stephen Bannister. Ticket sales, Katie Sciullo; parent liaison, Leanne Cornell; cast party, Mike Delisi; spaghetti dinner, Judy Bannister, and Kandace Kettren; concessions, Diane Rayman and Jill MacLaughlin; basket auction, Judy Bannister; and souvenirs, Jen Foscoe.
Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a former McKeesport Daily News editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published April 08, 2019.