The Making of Bright Star
By Amberle N.
The story of the musical Bright Star begins with garlic crackers.
Steve Martin met a rather shy Edie Brickell at a dinner party and offered her some, causing the renowned comedian and the indie music legend to become fast friends that night. Such a small story of breaking the ice set the stage for their friendship. In 2011, after listening to Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ album Rare Bird Alert, Brickell praised his songs and proposed writing music together. As Martin would admit to Stephen Colbert – though he’d written songs on his own and played banjo for other people’s songs – he had no idea how to write a song with another person from scratch but he went ahead and said yes.
Their musical partnership resulted in the 2013 album Love Has Come For You. In 2014, the title song won the Grammy for Best American Roots Song – a vindication of Martin’s musical talent with the banjo and Brickell’s return to the music scene after a long hiatus.
The idea for the musical came while Brickell and Martin were composing the album. One of the banjo compositions they created inspired the writing of a “train song,” and Brickell’s curiosity led her to discover a fantastic event in the history of the Iron Mountain Railroad. The traditional folksong “The Iron Mountain Baby” inspired Bright Star and forms the core of its narrative – an ideal story for the event of a lifetime.
Describing her appreciation of the Iron Mountain Baby to CBS, Brickell said “I love miracles and I read that story and said, it’s such a beautiful miracle and it’s so weird that anybody can do such a thing. And it just did – it sparked my imagination.”
The songs of Love Has Come For You are themselves a set of tiny stories, some funny and some serious. The album’s songs heavily inspired Bright Star, capturing the adventuresome highs and lows of the setting and serving as a point around which many characters were crafted.
In a 2016 interview with Steven Colbert, Brickell described her experience of Bright Star’s lyrics as “singing a character’s heart,” in terms of who they are and how they feel. Martin sent her banjo compositions and she would sing to them until a song solidified, and that spirit carried into Bright Star as the two of them composed songs around the characters.
One of the first lines from the musical is, “If you knew my story, you’d have a good story to tell,” and the entire narrative occurs as a deeper look into the lives of characters who are stepping out of a background role as writers for others to tell their own story. It’s a story that does the work of paying attention to love, and the musical carries a sweetness that is rooted in tradition and the optimism of post-war America.
Bright Star plays at the Center from September 6 – 29.Buy Tickets