This production offers plenty of energy, but aspects of performance can exaggerate the musical’s more sentimental outpourings and unevenness of tone.
Nothing can dampen the infectiousness of the show’s country music choruses, even if they tend, especially in the second half, to distract from rather than augment the emotional impact of the story.
Gare makes Alice an attractively brusque word nerd: a strong woman with a brilliant mind. She also sings wonderfully, though the acting is patchier. Swift scene cuts in the second half and loose direction leave her grasping with emotions.
Still, the passionate romance opposite Prime is full of chemistry and playful Southern flirtation. O’Malley has naïve charm as the aspiring writer, and the offbeat literary comedy at Alice’s magazine office, featuring a pair of lightly disgruntled underlings (Ellie Nunan, Lachlan Hewson), is droll and diverting.
The musical does have a central twist that’s a tall order for any actor to carry off without resorting to melodramatic horror, but Blair’s half-hearted pantomime villainy seems almost calculated to suspend belief.
I did see Bright Star in a preview performance, so the ensemble is likely to improve as the season progresses. And if the show itself has flaws, fans of country, folk or bluegrass music should still enjoy the relentlessly catchy score.