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Davidson College Delivers an Appalachian Version of Life’s Age-old Drama to the Melodies of Blue Grass Tunes

by | Mar 28, 2024

Screenshot from Davidson Theatre Department social media.


Bright Star tells the age-old drama about a baby born out of wedlock. What was bright about the Davidson College musical production of the timeless story were the outstanding voices of talented young singers. They were delightful!

Last weekend, Mark Sutch directed Davidson’s version with music under the direction of Jacquelyn Culpepper to deliver Bright Star’s music, book, and story by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell at the Duke Family Performance Hall.

Portrayed along the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the set is depicted by Anita Tripathi’s twisting wooden boards scenic design. Delightfully clever.

Hollis Plexico as Alice Murphy opens the musical drama with “If You Knew My Story,” inciting the audience’s curiosity. A cast of fifteen freshmen-to-senior musical thespians go on to relate the saga intoning Blue Grass tunes about an incident encompassing a couple of decades among Appalachian lives.

Young Alice Murphy and Jimmy Rae Dobbs, played by Jake McGraw, had fallen in love before the war. Suspecting she might have become pregnant, Alice confers with Dr. Norquist, played by Tyler Puleo. Their one night of love had left Alice with child, a condition Mayor Dobbs, Jimmy Rae’s father, performed by Mason Escobar, is determined to challenge. He has other brilliant plans for the future of his son. World War II interferes.

Davidson’s actors deliver an emotional, heart-breaking enactment of the Mayor and Alice’s father, Papa Murphy, portrayed by Ryaan Sabooni, pulling the baby away from a desperately sobbing Alice. Mama Murphy, played by Grace Gentle tries to soothe her distressed daughter.

Entoning “A Man’s Gotta Do,” Mayor Dobbs claims he has found a family that will adopt the baby to give him a happy, wealthy life, a tune he reprises as he tries to mitigate his actions.

Billy Cane, played by Henry Nichols, returns from the war to the mountains to see his father, Daddy Cane, portrayed by David Kilde and reunites with his friend Margo, played by Sahana Athreya.

Along with other Appalachian young folks, they try to unravel the truth about the incident that had occurred before the war, including Florence, played by Rachel Alexander-Lee; Max portrayed by Ridley Browder; Stanford, played by Joab Martinez; and Edna, delivered by Emma Walsh.

Daryl, played by Eva Carter, and Lucy, portrayed by Mahrle Siddall, staff the news office and try to obstruct their investigation, denying what they know about the truth.

The college actors also performed as the Ensemble to deliver Bright Star in song and dance choreographed by Emily Hunter, to the Blue Grass tunes conducted by Tara Villa Keith. There were times when some actors would don a veil, an action I still do not comprehend. A sign of respect? Mourning? Tradition?

Davidson College’s melodic voices were delightful and Bright Star’s set was creative. Although the story, as written by Martin and Brickell became confusing at times, the Davidson College’s cast figured it out and the story became clear in the end. After all, in Appalachia, the “Sun’s Gonna Shine.”

And it did.

Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher, neé Consuelo Carmona, is a Davidson resident who grew up in Mexico City where she became a journalist and acquired a taste for the theatre. Her preference for work behind the scenes led to an interest in writing reviews—Yale Rep among her favorite troupes. Connie is the author of Doing it the Right Way, the biography of an Italian hatmaker. Her prose appears with 87 other international writers in The Widows’ Handbook. An active, founding member of Lake Norman Writers, Connie just released her latest book, "The Mongrel, Bi-cultural Adventures of a Latina-Scandinavian Youth," a memoir about her years growing up in Mexico.​

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