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Penn State Thespian Society Presents ‘Bright Star’

In its 2023-24 debut on stage, the Penn State Thespian Society will present “Bright Star,” a musical set in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1920s and 1940s, originally written and composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

The musical largely follows Alice Murphy’s adult years in the 1940s along with flashbacks to the 1920s, when Alice gives birth out of wedlock.

While trying to balance young love and looming careers in a close-knit, whispering rural town, Alice and partner Jimmy Ray Dobbs’ days-old baby is given up for private, anonymous adoption by the forceful hand of Jimmy Ray’s father in an attempt to preserve his son’s future.

Unbeknownst to the teenage couple who believe their baby is heading into the home of another family, Jimmy Ray’s father threw the newborn baby off a moving train and into the river below the train tracks.

Heartbroken that their son would grow up without knowing his real parents, Alice and Jimmy Ray make their way through gloomy adult lives alone, never forgetting the impact of their first love and the heartbreak that came along with it.

“This is not a story that is like a Disney princess story,” Cindy Parker, who portrayed Alice Murphy, said. “There’s a lot of depth to it. I feel like it’s really cool, and I’m really excited for people to see it.”

Alice went on to forge a successful career as a newspaper editor at the Asheville Southern Journal following her education at the University of North Carolina.

Simultaneously, “Bright Star” tells the story of Billy Cane, a soldier-turned-passionate writer and storyteller, who is trying to break into the world of journalism after returning from service.

Billy, played by Michael Hall, writes story after story, trying to get his name in print at the Asheville Southern Journal with the guidance of iron-willed and stubborn Alice. After determination to get published and editing help from hometown sweetheart Margo Crawford, Billy finally gets the green light from Alice that his story will appear in print.

Billy and his mentor Alice return to Billy’s hometown so Alice can meet his father, and during the brief interaction, Alice notices a suitcase and baby blanket riddled with memories from the night her son was taken from her 23 years prior.

With the help of Billy’s father, Alice and Billy uncover that not only were the duo a successful writer and editor pair, but Alice was Billy’s real mother. Billy’s father stumbled upon the discarded baby while hunting for frogs in the river one night and knew it was his will to raise Billy as his own.

The revelation brought Alice and Jimmy Ray back together after years of silence due to the trauma of losing their child, and the two got engaged alongside Billy and Margo in a full-circle, feel-good ending.

“A lot of the things that happen to Jimmy and Alice, most undergraduate students have no experience with,” Ethan Leicht, who played Jimmy Ray, said. “Having a child, losing a child, getting a child back. It’s definitely a challenge to play those two sides of it, but it’s important to kind of find those emotions, maybe from another place in your life, and bring it forward and try to explore what that might feel like being that person.”

The unique, upbeat Southern bluegrass music provided depth to the haunting but serendipitous tale that strayed away from the Thespians’ typical production choice.

“It’s just kind of unbelievable to believe that in six weeks we put on the show, and I couldn’t be happier with the result,” director Jonathan Yourchak said. “I’m so proud of everyone involved. It’s just been so much fun. I’m so excited to finally show it to people.”

“Bright Star” will debut at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 5, in Schwab Auditorium and will be shown at the same time on Friday and Saturday nights, too. There will also be a 1:30 p.m. showing on Sunday, October 8, in Schwab Auditorium.

Admission is $12 for general patrons and $4.98 for students. Children aged 12 and under can purchase a ticket for $4.99. Tickets for the show can be purchased online or at the door.

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About the Author

Keeley Lamm

Keeley is a junior journalism major from Richmond, Virginia, and is Onward State's managing editor. She also talks about awesome stuff on our podcast, Podward State. Keeley is a lover of grilled cheese, horizontal time, and Kevin Jonas. If you'd like to share your thoughts on the superior Jonas Brother, feel free to contact her on Twitter @keeleylammm or send your best joke to her email [email protected].

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