Beware of works of art in which a star is a metaphor. As a matter of fact, beware of anything in which a star is a metaphor. You can be sure that the beacon-of-light / hope-springs-eternal symbolism will be very obviously in play.
It certainly is in the new musical Bright Star at The Old Globe Theatre, written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and directed by Walter Bobbie. The Globe's 2014-15 season opener delivers a formulaic story that possesses its darker overtones, but it's, by and large, a sugary couple of hours of secrets predictably revealed, all set to Americana-flavored music.
In Bright Star, two stories converge, unfolding in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains in the wake of World War II. Billy Cane (A.J. Shively), fresh-faced and fresh out of the service, is home again and wants nothing more than to become a famous writer. This leads him to the big city—Raleigh—and to uptight, bespectacled editor Alice Murphy (Carmen Cusack), who oversees a prestigious literary magazine, the "Asheville Southern Journal." But there's another side to Alice: her past, when, as a young girl, she fell in love with Jimmy Ray Dobbs (like Billy, another name that sounds right out of NASCAR), had a baby by him and had it yanked away from her by Jimmy Ray's mayor pappy (Wayne Duvall) for the sake of propriety and political expediency. The events of Billy's dream-seeking and Alice's tortured young womanhood are paralleled in words and song, coming together in a feel-good resolution that will take no one by surprise.
Bright Star's staging, with talented musicians housed in a see-through cabin that's whirled around the stage to make way for set pieces as needed, is thoroughly imaginative, and the ensemble of players is top-flight. Yet, with a couple of exceptions, the songs' lyrics are shallow and too literal, simply extensions set to music of what each character might say if Bright Star were a play and not a musical.
At the risk of employing that star metaphor, Cusack shines as Alice, and her and Jimmy Ray's (Wayne Alan Wilcox) aching duet "I Had a Vision" does strike a genuine emotional chord in a show that needs many more of them.
Bright Star runs through Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $49 and up. theoldglobe.org
The Musical of Musicals: The Musical: A musical spoof of—you guessed it—musicals, with humorous takes on several masters of musical theater, such as Stephen Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Presented by the Oceanside Theatre Company, it opens Oct. 3 at The Brooks Theatre in Oceanside. oceansidetheatre.org
The Royale: In the early 20th century, a black heavyweight boxer finally has the chance to fight for the championship, but his sister is worried about the aftermath should he win. Opens Oct. 4 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
She-rantulas from Outer Space in 3D: Back by popular demand—a comedy about an invading horde of mutant monsters and a small-town mom who learns a horrible truth about her little daughter Suzie. Opens Oct. 1 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Fallen Angels: In Noël Coward's 1925 farce, two women stuck in boring marriages anticipate the impending arrival of a passionate man whom both dated before they were married. Through Oct. 5 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
The Graduate: MiraCosta College's Theatre Department celebrates its 50th anniversary with the stage adaptation of the classic 1967 film about young Benjamin and that sultry seductress, Mrs. Robinson. Through Oct. 5 at the MiraCosta Theatre on the Oceanside campus. hub.miracosta.edu/theatre
Kingdom City: A world-premiere play about a New York theater director who stirs things up in a small, conservative Missouri town when she directs a high-school production of The Crucible. Through Oct. 5 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Postmortem: It's 1922, and an actor famous for playing Sherlock Holmes has reassembled a group of people who were present a year earlier when someone allegedly committed suicide. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through Oct. 5 at the Legler Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Rabbit Hole: SDSU's School of Theatre, Television and Film takes on the story of a husband and wife struggling as they mourn the loss of their 4-year-old son. Through Oct. 5 in SDSU's Experimental Theatre. ttf.sdsu.edu
Race: In David Mamet's play, a white businessman is accused of raping a black woman, and his law firm turns to a black, female attorney for guidance. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through Oct. 5 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. differentstages.biz
Shaken Not Stirred: A plain librarian's world is rocked when two men in black move in next door. Through Oct. 5 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
This Wide Night: Two women, former cellmates, have been released from prison and now must navigate a challenging life of freedom in London. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through Oct. 11 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Corpse!: In London in 1936, a woman plots with a man to murder his wealthy twin brother. Through Oct. 12 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World: A young woman returns to Salem 10 years after the Witch Trials, but she's not the only interesting newcomer. Through Oct. 12 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Next to Normal: A gripping musical about a suburban family coping with mother Diana's bipolar disorder and delusions of her dead son. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it runs through Oct. 12 at the North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
The Pianist of Willesden Lane: Actor and pianist Mona Golabek tells the story of a 14-year-old music prodigy whose promising career is imperiled by war in Europe in 1938. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it's been extended through Oct. 12 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Scott Joplin's New Rag: In a world premiere, Robert Barry Fleming, who wrote the script, performs a one-person play about ragtime composer Scott Joplin. Presented by Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company, it runs through Oct. 19 at the 10th Avenue Arts Center in East Village. moolelo.net
The Clean House: In case you missed it at PowPAC in June, it's the story of a woman, her maid who doesn't like cleaning houses and her husband who falls in love with another woman who's dying of cancer. Through Oct. 26 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Bright Star: A world-premiere musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell about a soldier who returns home to North Carolina from World War II, hooks up with a literary-journal editor and, with her, discovers a life-changing secret. Through Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Fool for Love: Performed in rotation with True West, Sam Shepard's drama tells the tale of a woman resisting the offer to return to a dysfunctional existence with an old flame. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 2 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Les Miserables: In this classic musical, a poor Frenchman spends 19 years in prison after stealing a loaf of bread, only to escape and get caught up in a revolution under an assumed identity. Through Nov. 2 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
True West: Performed in rotation with Fool for Love, Sam Shepard's dark comedy is about two formerly estranged brothers—younger Austin, a screenwriter, and older Lee, a thief who horns in on Austin's career. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 2 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me: Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net