The Jewish Theatre Ensemble’s Spring Quarter show, Bright Star, is a bluegrass musical that takes place in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and is told through flashbacks between 1923 and 1945. The story follows editor Alice Murphy during different points in her life, exploring how her past and present eventually intertwine.
The process of planning the show started around this time last year, when the producer and director were chosen and went on to pitch shows.
Communication junior and producer Sophia Barron said JTE focuses on faith-based theater.
“This past season we chose a quote to kind of encapsulate what our season would be about, and it is, ‘Look at how a single candle both defy and define the darkness.’ That’s by Anne Frank,” Barron said.
While the show does not specifically have Jewish characters, Barron said there were many themes in the show that connected with Judaism and JTE’s mission statement as a whole.
“This show isn’t a specifically Jewish or faith-based show, so we kind of came at it looking for and picking apart the values and the tenants of faith that can be found within it,” Barron said. “We took the emphasis on tradition and family and storytelling that are all prevalent in Judaism.”
Communication junior and director Tucker Tab DeGregory said the show specifically resonated with him because it reminded him of his parents.
“My mom is a female journalist, and I’ve been raised around that world, so I was immediately drawn to that,” DeGregory said. “My dad is a drummer, so I was raised with a lot of folk music in my life, and this is the perfect crossroads of that. It’s like storytelling through song and telling stories about ordinary people in the shadows and in extraordinary circumstances.”
This personal connection to show was extremely important to DeGregory, and he said he hopes to empower others to work on art that moves them.
“I feel like a lot of times we feel like we need to do art that other people are imposing on us, and I can’t tell you how important it’s been for me to come to rehearsal day in and day out and work on material that I connect to and that I think is important to share with people,” he said.
Barron specifically connected with the show’s music. She found a “warm feeling of home in a place I never thought would be my home,” when she first listened to the soundtrack.
“We also thought that the music was really different to a lot of the other musical theater that’s shown on this campus,” Barron said. “We thought it’d be a cool opportunity to open up the theater community and the Northwestern community as a whole to a new type of music and a new type of storytelling.”
Another important aspect of picking and planning the show was how to best use the performance space, Shanley Pavilion, since it's not a traditional theater.
“It was also really important to find a musical that was good for this space,” DeGregory said. “So many musicals in the canon of musical theater are best suited in high budget areas, so it was really important to me to find something that would really play well in a space that’s a little bit grungy and a little bit falling apart.”
In addition to directing, DeGregory also choreographed the show. Despite difficulties balancing time, he found directing and choreographing together to be a positive experience.
“I found it to be a humongous payoff because it allows me to work with the cast even closer than a director or choreographer would separately,” he said. “You build a rapport, you build a vocabulary with them more easily because you’re the sole person doing the staging. It also helps with cohesiveness in storytelling because you’re creating a physical vocabulary for the world of the show.”
In addition to the overarching themes of tradition and family, another takeaway from the show is having faith in some kind of higher power.
“I hope people also feel like they can put faith in fate, that’s a big thing we’ve been talking about,” DeGregory said. “No matter what denominations of Christianity that these Southern characters are living in, they all, to some extent, put faith in fate and believe in the power of the universe to bring upon the things they’ve been holding out for, and that is hugely impactful, especially for people our age.”
Bright Star will run in Shanley Pavilion May 23 at 8 p.m., May 24 at 7 and 10 p.m., and May 25 at 2 and 7 p.m.