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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s musical ‘Bright Star’ makes regional debut in Spokane Valley

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

Musicians are typically tucked away in the pit during a musical. However, the band is front and center during “Bright Star,” which runs Friday through July 23 at the Spokane Valley Summer Theatre.

The musical crafted by the legendary Steve Martin and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, who penned the lyrics, is a period piece that takes place in the deep South.

“The band performing onstage grounds the characters in this production,” Andrea Olsen said. “It helps with the storyline and it’s a wonderful way to showcase the band.”

Olsen, 46, portrays Alice Murphy, a literary editor in 1946. When Murphy meets a young soldier from the war, it reawakens her longing for a child she once lost. The play about love and redemption flashes back to 1923 when Murphy flirts as a teenager with Jimmy Ray Dobbs, who is portrayed by Clayton Winters.

“What has surprised me most about this play is that it is so heartfelt,” Winters said. “It’s such an emotional play.”

Winters was so moved that he left New York City to be part of the regional production. “I love what the play is about and I love what they have going on in Spokane Valley,” Winters said. “It’s exciting being part of the theater here.”

Winters, 41, is back with Spokane Valley Summer Theater after taking part in “Bridges of Madison County” in 2022. “I was up for returning thanks to what the theater is doing and due to ‘Bright Star,’ ” Winters said. “Steve Martin is brilliant. We all know how funny he is but he’s brilliant. He’s a great writer and Edie Brickell’s unique approach to music helps make this such a special play.”

“Bright Star,” which premiered in San Diego in 2014, is a play for those who are sticklers for detail. The set design, costumes and hair and makeup are akin to another character. “’Bright Star’ is visually stunning,” Winters said. “I give set designer (and technical director) David Baker all the credit in the world. He has given us this great set of rustic nature that helps tell this down home story. What he has helped put together is a visual feast.”

Olsen, a Central Valley High alum, class of ’95, and Winters also tip their cap to costume designer Linay Robison and hair and wig mistress Jeanette Brenner. “Just wait until you see the hair in this show,” Olsen said. “It’s utterly transformative. When you see it, it speaks to the artistry of Jeanette. And there’s the detail with hats, costumes and even the luggage.”

The details are there but what sets the production, which is directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson, apart is that it’s a well-balanced show buoyed by the bluegrass and a compelling story. Banjo player Kaleb Dion and mandolin player Daniel Gore are the backbone of the soundtrack. “You’re getting a pretty complete package with this show,” Winters said. “It’s quite a production.”

Winters is hyping up the Spokane Valley Summer Theater scene to his thespian pals in Gotham. “What is going on in with theater in the Valley is amazing,” Winters said. “I’ve told everyone back home about it.”

Olsen, who lives in the Valley and is a music educator at Spokane Falls Community College, is just as enthusiastic. “We have something special here,” Olsen said. “I’m glad to be part of all of this and ‘Bright Star.’ ”