MOUNT MOURNE – Susan Howard had never heard of “Bright Star” before last summer, but her Pine Lake Preparatory students will perform the North Carolina-based musical April 11-14.
“I got that perusal script, and I read every word in one sitting,” said Howard, the Upper School theater teacher and play director. “The story just sucked me in. It’s such a great story. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done.”
The play was written by actor and comedian Steve Martin, who has a home in Asheville, and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, and is based on the legend “Iron Mountain Baby.” It takes place in the 1940s, with flashbacks to the 1920s.
The first flashback for female lead Piper Loebach, a Pine Lake senior, takes place mid-song.
“She goes from a wild, barefoot, 16-, 17-year-old teenager in the mountains of North Carolina to this still very Southern, but refined, almost cold, emotionally cut-off business woman who runs a magazine,” Howard said.
The music is true to the western part of the state, where Loebach saw “Bright Star” performed last summer, with live fiddle and banjo via bluegrass band Cockman Brothers and Pine Lake students accompanying on the guitar.
Given the limited space on the school’s STEM Building stage, stage manager Bellina Johnson, a sophomore, said the details are key.
“It’s more about the time period, the small details,” she said. “So the costumes, the small set pieces, just how you act is how you portray the period.”
The costumes have been entered with hopes to be nominated for a Blumey Award – the Blumenthal Performing Arts High School Musical Theater Awards – with the creative costume award as the goal. For that award, no more than 30 percent of the costumes can be rented, purchased as the final product or borrowed. And students must be involved in at least 50 percent of the costume-making labor to be eligible.
This task is headed by junior Laina Miller, whose team started sewing 1920s and 1940s dresses several months ago.
One that Loebach will wear has Velcro down the side for easy costume changes.
“All the dresses had to be handmade, which is really awesome because we all got to learn and use our skills for that,” Miller said.
Howard, who used to put on shows that included both middle- and high school students, relishes that she implement more mature themes and challenging roles in “Bright Star,” which has only high-schoolers.
“It’s a little bit more adult content,” Hoard said. “We always do shows that are K through 12. Now that we’re not casting middle-schoolers, the high-schoolers deserve shows that have a little bit more meat to them. I felt like it was time to give the kids something a little bit harder.”
For Loebach, who plans to major in musical theatre in college, this production has lived up to that billing.
“I think this is the hardest show I’ve ever done, but also my favorite show I’ve ever done,” she said.