So I am queued up in the theater at intermission, hoping the line will move fast enough for me to get to the bathroom before they “flicker” the lights and I have to return to my seat unrelieved, and all around me in line – and later in the bathroom itself – there is identifiable chatter – and remember we are in the theater of a Broadway musical – not about some “open audition” or a great place to buy leg warmers – but about the recent firing of the Baylor University football coach.
Truth be told, of the dozen or more men waiting to use the bathroom, I was the only theatergoer in line unaware of the recent firing of the Baylor University football coach. Or, for that matter, where Baylor University is.
(I looked it up. It’s in Waco, Texas.)
I don’t mean to appear prejudiced – especially if it turns out I am – but in my mind, I do not readily associate hardcore Southern male football enthusiasts with Broadway musicals. I recall similar conversations emanating from the Men’s Room of Funny Girl or Hello, Dolly. Bright Star was demonstrably an exception.
That’s when it hit me.
This musical was for them.
Unfortunately, it was not for us.
Or so we believed.
(Note: Forget immediately that I said that, or it will spoil the surprise ending. I should probably leave it out. Unless you have already forgotten what I’m talking about. Oh, you have? Good. Then I don’t have to.)
I need to be careful here. I am critiquing a musical whose target audience is “Not me.” It’s like attending a Christian religious service and everyone’s exiting the church feeling spiritually uplifted and the best I can contribute is, “That reverend sure seemed to know what he was talking about.”
It’s a definite difficulty. How do you accurately adjudicate a show intended, in this case, for rabid southern university football fans?
By Broadway musical standards – and I may be flattering myself believing I have any – Bright Star’s first act had been less than encouraging. I mean, the cast was capable enough. The lead actress (Carmen Cusack), was, in fact, an unqualified delight. I would happily see her again. In something I cared about.
The show‘s country inflected melodies (by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell) were tunefully appropriate but… it’s not like you forgot them after you listened to them; I forgot them while I was listening to them.
And the storyline, which heated up in Act Two…
Bright Star is constructed with two interwoven narratives, the more dramatic one involving young lovers, an unwanted pregnancy, a forced adoption that ended instead with the inseminator’s father, in a misguided act of paternal protectiveness, tossing the illegitimate infant off of a train into a river, culminating with a surprise revelation and dual weddings.
What can I tell you?
This is what I can tell you.
When the show ended, with the audience around me rising in rapturous ovation, I discovered – swear to God – that there were wet tears rolling uncontrollably down my cheeks.
I was genuinely incredulous. Somehow, in its inherent purity, simplicity and unadorned humanity…
Bright Star had sneaked surreptitiously up my arm, penetrating my cold and callused heart.
I felt incredibly embarrassed. I could not believe it. Had this cornpone confection actually melted my emotions? When exactly did that happen?
Reluctantly, I turned to Dr. M – a notorious hokum hater – to accept my medicine for succumbing to this shameless sentimentality and – swear to God once again –
Dr. M was blubbering as well.
“We’re so sappy!” she sobbed, a mixture of tearfulness and surprise.
Who would ever have thunk it?
The show intended for them turned out also to be for us.
Later that evening, I imagined running into Steve Martin, who I am peripherally acquainted with, offering the capsulizing reaction that came spontaneously to mind:
“You made two Jewish people cry.”
I was concerned he might be confused by my compliment. But that’s the beauty of imagining stuff.
No actual risk whatsoever.
I am happy we saw Bright Star.
Although, wise as I am, I cannot for the life of me explain why it got to me.
I mean, what’s next? Debating the justification of the firing of the Baylor University football coach?
I don’t even know his name!