116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — From the beautiful mind sporting an arrow around it comes a play that shoots straight to the heart of love, loss, adoption and rebirth.
Theatre Cedar Rapids is staging “Bright Star,” a recent musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, in Brucemore’s Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater from June 18 to July 3.
This bluegrass musical, published in 2014, brought “something so different and unique” to Broadway in 2016, said Angie Toomsen of Cedar Rapids, the show’s director and TCR’s artistic director.
What: “Bright Star,” a Bluegrass musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Where: Presented by Theatre Cedar Rapids at Brucemore’s Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 7:30 p.m. June 18 to July 3 run time 1 hour 45 minutes, with an intermission
Tickets: $25 single to $100 square seating up to four; discounts, other options available; TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or theatrecr.org/
Extras: Linden Drive gate opens at 6:30 p.m.; parking on-site; bring chairs, blankets, picnics (beer and wine allowed), bug spray; concessions also available for purchase
“The collaboration of Steve Martin and Eddie Brickell was fascinating, and I know it drove a lot of their mutual fan base to come see what the outcome of this creative work together (would be),” Toomsen said.
“What they created is inspired and breezy and has a lightness to it. At the same time, the story has great weight and depth. And the bluegrass music and the way it’s translated into this medium is something fresh and just easy to consume.”
Set in North Carolina in the 1940s, it time hops back to the 1920s, to show the events that set into motion a journey for answers for literary editor Alice Murphy (played by Jordan Arnold of Cedar Rapids). A chance meeting in the present triggers her longing for the child she lost as a teen, when the baby was taken against her will and whisked away on a train, to be placed up for adoption.
It’s a situation that mirrors the origin story of young cast member Lia Scharnau, 17, of Marion. Born in China, she was about 1 day old when she was found in a train station, in a maintenance car off the loading dock area.
“Someone just put me in the passenger seat and the workers found me, so that’s kind of my connection,” she said.
Her mother and fellow cast member, Susan Scharnau Schultejans, 51, of Marion, said Lia came to an orphanage that recognized the importance of nurturing the children, and she arrived at her new home in Marion the day before her first birthday.
She became part of a family with her mother and late father, Gregg Scharnau, eventually gaining three siblings. After her mother remarried, she became part of a blended family with three more siblings.
“So any way you can create a family, we are that,” Scharnau Schultejans said. “We’re now this dynamic family.”
Mother and daughter — who have performed on the Brucemore stage in the past — were drawn to the story’s adoption theme.
"Because we have such a personal connection to that particular way to form a family, it spoke to us,“ Scharnau Schultejans said. ”It's just a simple, beautiful story about love and how family can have many definitions and resilience.“
They play spirits who know the story, help guide Alice “and just give the best energy to her, even in the troubles she’s facing, and the hardships,” Lia said.
In the play, Alice was the victim not only of a bad man, but a bad system that didn’t support her, Toomsen noted.
“And so we learn about that loss and how it has impacted her life and her trajectory,” she said. ”We learn about the life of the father of the child. And in the end … we learn more about what happened to the baby.“
Despite the dark moments that Toomsen said are important to consider, the story is infused with moments of levity, love and joyous music.
“It’s super fun,” said music director Janelle Lauer of Cedar Rapids. “A lot of it is super upbeat and fun. There’s a lot of powerful moments in it — it’s really fun music to do.”
And fun to hear. “After the very first rehearsal, so many earworms,” Lauer said with a laugh. It also has lots of banjo — perhaps because Martin plays banjo on occasion with the Steep Canyon Rangers bluegrass band.
“It's a beautiful story about looking back on a life and where both the choices that we've made and the choices that have been foisted upon us kind of lead us,” Toomsen said.
“I think it's the perfect story to open theater locally with,” Scharnau Schultejans added. “It’s a beautiful, simple, almost traditional American musical. It’s a love story, it's got comedy, dancing, singing. I think everybody's going to have a great time.”
The production marks the next chapter in a new collaboration between TCR and Brucemore — one that brought to Brucemore’s courtyard “St. Nicholas” in October and “Little Women” from May 21 to June 6.
Digging through the theater’s archives, Toomsen didn’t find any other occasions when Theatre Cedar Rapids staged a musical — or any other play — in this outdoor amphitheater. It has been the site, however, for 25 previous years of the Classics at Brucemore, as well as theater for young audiences, Revival Theatre and Cedar Rapids Opera’s summer productions.
“We see this collaboration with TCR as another example of 40 years of innovative and entrepreneurial use of this estate,” said David Janssen, Brucemore’s executive director. “We don’t see this partnership as replacing the Classics at Brucemore program, per se. The success of the Classics series over a quarter century sparked many other productions in what we later named the Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater. …
“The Classics pioneered outdoor theater in Cedar Rapids, and also inspired a resurgence of Corridor summer theater in general. This collaboration with TCR is grounded in all of those experiences,” he noted.
“Bright Star” is “very special” for the people who have been involved in the Classics productions, Toomsen said, adding that this summer’s offering is “still connecting to that legacy of the Classics, in terms of the experience we want to create for our folks that we're bringing into the process.”
The familiar experience will continue for the audiences, as well, who are invited to come early and bring chairs, blankets, picnics and bug spray — necessary for a show presented near a pond. Physical distancing will be observed with lawn squares seating up to four people, as well as limited single squares. Gates will open at 6:30, and seating is on a first-come basis. Concessions also will be sold on site.
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