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Taylor High School's BRIGHT STAR

Mature Alice Murphy (Anna Bucher) and ensemble remember the past, singing “Way Back In The Day” in Bright Star at Taylor High School.

Review by Helena Hennessy, Mercy McAuley High School Critic Team

A story of immense heartache met with everlasting perseverance: Taylor High School’s latest production brought a sentimental message of how, if we search for it, an irrevocable Bright Star can guide us home.

Inspired by a touching true story, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell crafted Bright Star’s complex narrative, which spans decades, to tell a tale of the love that remains in times of uncertainty and how redemption for the future is achievable. The musical balances two contrasting timelines, the 1920s and ‘40s, in perfect harmony; one in which Alice Murphy, literary editor, recruits a young World War II soldier in whom she sees potential, paired with another set twenty years before where a young Alice faces choosing between the newfound love she is experiencing or her family’s wishes. In this award-winning multifaceted journey, Alice yearns for a place, or a person, to call home.

Taylor High School’s rendition of Bright Star stunningly showcased the timely yet true intents of their characters, featured sincere musical performances paired with both lyrical and upbeat choreography, and enchanted attendees through their wholehearted messaging that defied the test of time alongside its storyline.

Anna Bucher embodied Alice Murphy’s strength through the heartache she endured, and beautifully portrayed her walls crumbling down as she found what she had long been searching for; a love cast astray. The opening number “If You Knew My Story” introduced Alice’s tough façade that she had built through years of turmoil, while Bucher’s depiction of her character’s vulnerability beneath the surface shined. She masterfully acted as both a scared, naïve young girl who ached for purpose in her past, while beautifully portraying the effect of this origin on Alice’s present self – her undying hope remained. Bucher had an innate ability to portray unfeigned longing through her on-stage interactions, particularly with Justin Hughes as Jimmy Ray Dobbs who personified his character’s moral dilemma: “Is it better to hope or to know?” It was the pair’s essential contrast that allowed both their performances and voices to uniquely blend; harboring a rich narrative and tone. The anguish of the 1940s allowed the actors to joyfully gleam through their entirely real ‘20s banter. In “I Had a Vision,” Hughes depicted Jimmy Ray’s requited passion and pining for Alice. The pair, as a whole, enriched the production at its heart; allowing for a culmination of emotion.

A wholehearted enacting of Billy Cane from Gavin Fox led the production’s narrative to its pinnacle; a long-awaited reunion. Fox’s bittersweet response and conflicted demeanor throughout this act allowed for added complexity – revealing how there are always multiple perspectives to consider. Jackie Lindsley (Margo Crawford) was darling in her performance, allowing for a lightened feature in a heavy-hearted show. Elayna Bender as Lucy Grant was a true standout. Her performance was high-spirited and perfected through vocal squeaks and hilarious, suggestive line delivery in “Another Round.”

Bright Star calls for Appalachian technical elements in depicting its modest roots. The production's set design, curated by Bran Dooley, Ava Mueller, Callum Metz, and Owen Metz, depicted both homey wooden structures of the rural countryside, as well as Asheville’s metropolitan yet southern demeanor. Captivating, complex choreography from Elayna Bender, Logan Duerk, and Jacklynn Lindsley truly enlivened the production and made for a spirited ensemble.

Heartfelt portrayals of multifaceted characters and the way their strained yet everlasting bonds were depicted, allowed for Taylor High School’s production of Bright Star to glisten in the light of true emotion; with subtle moments of depth shining through tumultuous times – proving hope to be the end of all endings.

Lucy (Elayna Bender) and ensemble enjoy their time dancing at The Shiny Penny in Taylor High School’s production of Bright Star.

Review by Violet Hisey, Highlands High School Critic Team

A heartwarming love story and a cheery ensemble, topped with a realistic set and colorful costumes that perfectly accentuated the show’s quirks: Taylor High School had it all in their production of Bright Star.

Bright Star is an award-winning musical written and composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. It is mainly set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in 1945, with certain scenes being flashbacks to 1923. The story follows Alice Murphy, editor of The Journal, and her adventures in reconciling with her old lover and finding her son, whom she lost when he was taken years ago.

Despite the show being written in 2013, Taylor High School’s production of Bright Star made it seem like the show was a famous classic. Actors worked hard to perfect their southern twang and moving singing, while designers of tech elements ensured they were seen and heard throughout the show.

Anna Bucher expressed her expertise in acting through the mysterious role of Alice Murphy. However, nearing the end of the musical, the audience could experience both sides of Bucher’s acting as Murphy came out of her shell. Justin Hughes, who fulfilled the role of Alice’s lover, Jimmy Ray Dobbs, perfectly complimented Bucher’s acting and vocals with his own. In songs such as "What Could Be Better" and "I Had a Vision," their strong vocals and passionate acting were showcased.

Bright Star would not have been complete without its dynamic duo: Lucy Grant, portrayed by Elayna Bender, and Daryl Ames, played by Logan Duerk. While both actors had small roles in the beginning, it was clear that near the end, their comedic timing and acting choices had stolen the show. While the two were meant to act together, they both shone in their own way. "In Pour Me Another Round," Bender shocked the crowd with her powerful vocals and lively dancing. Despite an injury, Duerk made the crowd roar with laughter and applause with his jokes and singing.

As stated before, the designers of the tech elements of Bright Star made sure they were seen behind the curtain. Set crew, led by Bran Dooley, took the time to carve large mountains and even made a log cabin. Dooley not only succeeded at creating a time-appropriate scene but also added many small details that could’ve been overlooked. This proved the set crew’s hard work during this production. Complementing the set was the costumes crew, led by Emily Lindsley. The costumes of this show were not only true to the period but also added a touch of color that complemented the gray mountains in the show.

In conclusion, Taylor High School’s take on Bright Star twinkled with brightness, from its experienced actors to its flawless technical aspects.

Daryl (Logan Duerk), Lucy (Elayna Bender) and Billy (Gavin Fox) argue as tensions rise in the Asheville Southern Journal.

Review by Eddie Pierson, LaSalle High School Critic Team

Woven into a blanket of heartening folktale and melodic refrains and intertwined with a thread of heartache and forbidden love, Taylor High School’s Bright Star proved that if you knew its story, you truly would have a good story to tell.

From the minds of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Bright Star debuted at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre on September 28, 2014. From there the musical made its way to stages across the nation, eventually landing on Broadway on February 25, 2016. The Appalachian story, told through song, details the life of Alice Murphy, an esteemed journalist residing in Asheville, North Carolina. Jumping back and forth between a young Alice’s adventures in youthful romance and a grown-up Alice’s journey of rediscovery and evolution, she is reunited with her lost baby.

Taylor High School’s company was one full of bright stars, combining the talents of dedicated performers and masterful creatives to generate a sincere production of a deeply emotional story. The vocals, movement, staging, and design of every number was full of heart as the cast and crew shone through in bringing Martin and Brickell’s script to life.

Standing at the forefront of the stage and the story’s plot was the powerful characterization of Anna Bucher as Alice Murphy. Tasked with portraying both a once wild teenaged Alice and a more mature adult Alice , Bucher effectively made strong character choices to differentiate between the two, including changes in tonal inflections and body language. Bucher also displayed a nuanced emotive prowess in numbers such as “If You Knew My Story” and “Please, Don’t Take Him” through genuine facial expressions and mannerisms. Playing opposite Bucher was Justin Hughes as Jimmy Ray Dobbs in a performance that built strong chemistry with Bucher’s Alice and a well-rounded character of Jimmy Ray. Hughes’s vocals in all Jimmy Ray’s numbers were done with undeniable accuracy and talent.

An unwavering hilarity was brought to Taylor’s stage in the form of comedic duo Lucy Grant and Daryl Ames, presented by Elayna Bender and Logan Duerk respectively. The two were consistently humorous, even in moments when attention shifted they stole scenes while never breaking character and leaving the audience giggling at their antics. Bender also notably gave a showstopping performance in the number “Another Round,” in which she presented her dance expertise through a myriad of impressive skills.

Beyond the show’s performances, the other creative aspects of the production are what turned Taylor’s stage into a mountainous landscape and its ensemble into a group of lively spirits. Bran Dooley’s set design utilized material from a two hundred-year-old barn to create a reversible cabin, creating an authenticity that further pulled the audience into the world. Choreography by Elayna Bender, Logan Duerk, and Jacklynn Lindsley was ever present throughout the entirety of the show, bringing to life the engaging Spirit Ensemble’s movements that were integral to the telling of the story.

Taylor’s Bright Star was overall an illuminating production of excellent talent and abundant heart that would certainly have audiences shooting back to the theatre for another round of its meaningful story.

Taylor High School’s Jimmy Ray (portrayed by Justin Hughes) jumps for joy as him and his high school sweetheart, Alice Murphy, make plans to attend the Couple’s Day Dance in the production Bright Star.

Excerpts From Other Top Reviews

"Elayna Bender and Logan Durek, playing Lucy Grant and Daryl Ames respectively, were over-dramatic and quick-witted, leaving audience members howling with laughter from their drunken dancing in the number 'Another Round.' Furthermore, this pair was a part of the Spirit Dancer ensemble in which they gracefully demonstrated advanced choreography."

-Addie Litner, Highlands High School Critic Team

"Further enhancing the show were the dedicated hands of the Set Crew, under the leadership of Bran Dooley. They crafted a movable cabin from 200-year-old wood and metal siding, resulting in a wholly unique set. The show's ethereal nature is due to the choreography of the talented student choreographers Elanyna Bender, Logan Duerk, and Jacklynn Lindsley. Together they collaborated to ensure every act was a success."

-Anabelle Price, Ryle High School Critic Team

"Logan Durek brought humor and liveliness to the stage as Asheville Southern Journal employee Daryl Ames. His larger-than-life gestures and facial expressions and spunky attitude perfectly suited the sassy, comedic character. Thea Godel’s vocals as Daddy Cane were emotional and striking during the sorrowful song 'She’s Gone,' lamenting the loss of Mrs. Cane."

-Catherine Foster, Mercy McAuley High School Critic Team

"More talented acting came from Gavin Fox, who played Billy Cane, and Jacklynn Lindsley, who played Margo Crawford. Both Fox and Lindsley had such youthful auras about them, creating a hopeful and fun atmosphere."

-Alex Serger, Saint Ursula Academy Critic Team

"Every one of Bucher’s belts throughout the show conveyed the story of Alice Murphy. Her vocal, facial, and bodily expression brought life to the rage of a woman who had been wronged, a woman forced to wait for the life she deserved."

-Madison Jacob, William Henry Harrison High School Critic Team

"Backstage, Taylor High School’s set design team (Bran Dooley, Ava Muller, Callum Metx, and Owen Metz) absolutely outdid themselves in creating a wall of mountains to be the backdrop for the entire production. The mountain wall, made out of foam and insulation made from recycled blue jeans, looked identical to a landscape you would come across in the South. The costumes throughout the show, designed by Emily Lindsey, excellently portrayed both time periods, especially the jacket that Alice wore to show when the show jumped to the 1940s."

-Chloe Schwettmann, William Henry Harrison High School Critic Team

"With a story that encapsulates so much longing and loss, some might see Bright Star as an intimidating musical to take on, but the sheer talent within Taylor High School’s cast and crew was enough to make this story simply illuminate with pure brilliance."

-Ali Lewis, Mercy McAuley High School Critic Team

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