Claire Kepple and Jacob Smart. Photo courtesy of The Non-Stop Players.

From Heart-Wrenching To Triumphant 

The Non-Stop Players perform ‘Bright Star’ at ACE through May 12

It’s the very first scene from Bright Star, the poignant musical that opened April 26 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene, and Alice Murphy is declaring how heart-wrenching her road was to a contented understanding of a past that was stifled by the social norms of the time.

Alice (Claire Kepple) stands at center stage, surrounded by the cast from The Non-Stop Players, the company in residence at ACE, and delivers a forceful rendition of “If You Knew My Story.”

“If you knew my story / You’d have a good story to tell / Me I’m not alone / Tell me I’m not alone / Many backs have broken from lesser weight I know / I was born to carry more than I can hold.”

Opening night of The Non-Stop Players’ production of Bright Star, which runs at ACE through May 12, was emotionally uplifting, and by its sweet end, the musical had the audience tapping its toes to the bluegrass music that dominated the two-act performance. The musical — with music, book and lyrics by comedian Steve Martin and singer-songwriter Edie Brickell — is a triumph of love and redemption for Alice as well as other characters in the musical, all driven by the unspeakable harm that two father figures perpetuate. 

Bright Star is the story of Alice  —  who is the strong and independent publisher of a literary journal in the Deep South in the 1940s — and her childhood love, Billy Ray Dobbs (Jacob Smart), set in the small town of Zebulon, North Carolina, starting in the 1920s. Alice and Billy Ray are carefree teenagers, eager to escape the suffocating social clutches of the small-town Deep South. They fall in love.

From the start, the romance is fraught with peril, and it is the fathers who play cruel roles in dividing the two. Daddy Murphy (Adam Kelly) leans on any Bible scripture he can find to keep Alice, a free spirit who is an aspiring writer and editor, in line as best he can and tethered to a lifetime of wife-like duties.

Then there’s Mayor Josiah Dobbs (Chris McVein), Billy Ray’s father. He wants to tame Billy Ray’s desire to live happily so as to grow the family business. Marrying sensibly — and he mentions the daughters of two prominent North Carolina families, much to Billy Ray’s chagrin — is the way to go.

Josiah Dobbs is particularly vile, and he shows his horrid side when it’s discovered Alice is pregnant with Billy Ray’s baby. After she has the baby, a son, in a secluded cabin in the hills, Josiah spearheads the effort to have his family firmly disassociated from the child. He has custody papers at the ready, and Daddy Murphy signs them, much to the screaming anguish of Alice and Mama Murphy (Delany McMahon).

Worse, Josiah takes the baby in a duffle bag aboard a train, and in the next county, with the train at full speed, tosses the bag into a river, leaving the baby to drown.

Or does the baby drown after all? A parallel story — this one set in the 1940s — introduces the audience to a young Billy Crane (Reece Miller-Reynolds), who has just returned home from World War II, has a love interest in Margo Crawford (Anne Ferguson) and desperately wants to become the next great Southern novelist.

To that end, he moves to Asheville with $10 in his pocket and angles his way to an audience with Alice, the publisher of the Asheville Southern Journal. Alice is smitten with the young and energetic Billy, who awakens in her a longing for the child she once lost.

With their unique connection, Alice sets out once and for all on a journey to understand her past, to know her story, and finds the power to transform her life and that of Billy’s. 

Bright Star, directed by Karen Olsen, founder of The Non-Stop Players, has wonderful bluegrass music throughout, and the ensemble does a magnificent job with both the music and Southern dialect. It is well worth the time to see it. 

Bright Star with The Non-Stop Players continues at 7:30 pm May 3, 4, 10 and 11 and 2 pm May 5 and 12 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene, 996 Willamette St. Tickets are available at