• Laurel Contributor

The Summer’s Bright Star

by Donna Rhodes

Highlands Playhouse’s season closer is a bracing tale set outside Asheville at the turn of the 20th century, created by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

Get ready for a luminous new year at Highlands Playhouse with stars shining everywhere.

Here’s a sneak peek at the season’s closer, a marvelous musical… the kind of production you’ve been asking for … yearning for. It’s contemporary. Its two writers are national stars, actors, performers, Grammy Award winners, and one is practically our neighbor. The play is based on a true story, jam-packed with Appalachian heart.

Have you guessed it yet? Here’s a hint: the guy in its creative partnership is well-known for his early-career in stand-up comedy. He was a frequent host of SNL. He went on to star in movies, write books and plays, compose music for CDs (on which he performs instrumentally and vocally), and now is a rave-reviewed playwright.

The play is “Bright Star” and, you’ve no doubt deduced the co-writer is Steve Martin, who frequents Asheville and has an abiding fondness for music of the mountains. He performs nationally with Asheville-based Steep Canyon Rangers.

His co-creator, Edie Brickell, is an accomplished singer-songwriter herself, who’s composed movie soundtracks, performed nationally in touring bands, and is married to another musical powerhouse, Paul Simon.

The play is based on a true story, though the writers took poetic liberties. The musical evolved from an album, “Love Has Come for You,” which Martin and Brickell wrote in 2013. “Bright Star” had a successful run on Broadway and is now performed in theater houses all across the nation.

The emotional storyline, loosely-based on “The Iron Mountain Baby,” is set in the mountains around Asheville (not Irondale, Missouri where the event happened). From a moving train a five-day old baby fell 50 feet into Big River. William Helms, a 72-year-old Civil War vet found the baby, miraculously still alive.

He and his wife nursed him back to health and named him William Moses Gould Helms. The story spread and scores of women tried to claim the baby, but, for his protection, the Helms’ quickly adopted him. He grew up in Missouri, became a printer, married, had a son, and eventually moved to Texas where he lived out his life.

In 1902 his story inspired a folk song, “The Ballad of the Iron Mountain Baby.” Though his legendary past pursued him, Moses had no fondness for it.

The Moses story was the springboard for “Bright Star,” which has all the elements musical theater buffs adore – extraordinary tunes, an emotional roller coaster ride, tragedy, healing, and a bright, shining star finale.

Get ready for its Highlands debut, August 6-22. Tickets for the exciting 2020 season will be available April 1. Stay tuned to highlandsplayhouse.org for all the up-to-date information about its plays, movies, and special events.

The Laurel Magazine

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