By Lee J. Green
Tradition, family, community and storytelling are central to Judaism and to the shining “Bright Star,” opening March 31 and running through April 16 at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre.
“I think this show says so much about community, family, love, hope and redemption,” said Kelli Dodd, who stars as Alice Murphy in the bluegrass musical written by Steve Martin, whose mother is Jewish, and Edie Brickell, who is married to Jewish musician Paul Simon.
“Bright Star” tells the story of Alice at two points in her life: the first in 1923 when she is 16 and a free spirit in a Blue Ridge Mountains small town, then 22 years later when she has become a well-to-do editor at the Asheville Southern Journal magazine.
She is torn from her young love Jimmy Ray and their newborn son. Years later while at the magazine, a young writer named Billy Cane reignites her yearning for closure from the past.
Dodd said it was challenging to play the character at two different times and places. “Alice loves and deals with tragedy,” she said. “She goes through a catharsis as she finds hope and healing.”
“Bright Star” opens with the number “If You Knew My Story,” telling a sweeping story of love and redemption.
Dodd, who is from northeast Alabama, had been in Red Mountain Theatre productions in the past before moving to Colorado Springs. It’s there that she met her husband, Kyle, and they married during the pandemic.
“We both were acting and teaching drama,” she said. “Kyle got a job running the theatre department at Snead State (in Boaz), so that brought us back home to the South.” Dodd is a full-time visiting Spanish professor at Jacksonville State University, and the couple lives in Sardis.
“Bright Star” opened on Broadway in March 2016, running through June 2016 before touring. “It was the first show I ever saw on Broadway. At the start of the second half, to everyone’s surprise, Steve Martin was on stage playing the banjo,” she said.
Dodd said the symbiosis between the actors and the instrumentalists really bring the stories and action to light. “The instrumentalists are incredible and they are all on stage with us,” she said. “As an ensemble they really become a character in this play. It really elevates the show.” The actress also plays guitar and mandolin. She was with a bluegrass band in her 20s.
“Bright Star” has comedic moments and numbers (including the hilarious “Another Round” bar scene), as would be expected from something from the comic mind of Martin. But the musical has many poignant, tear-inducing moments.
“It’s a unique show with a lot of heart,” she said. “It has many themes and people everyone can relate to.” For more information on Bright Star, schedules and a preview of the upcoming 2023-24 season, go to www.redmountaintheatre.org. Use the discount code BANJO7 to save $7 on Price Level 1, 2 or 3 seats, through April 12.