Performing Arts

Dallas’ Edie Brickell talks about her Broadway baby, ‘Bright Star’

Carmen Cusack and Paul Alexander Nolan from the ’Bright Star’ original Broadway company
Carmen Cusack and Paul Alexander Nolan from the ’Bright Star’ original Broadway company

“Bright Star” is coming to Edie Brickell’s hometown, to make its debut as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Broadway series.

No one is more excited about that than the Oak Cliff native and Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts alumna, who teamed up with Steve Martin, a Waco native, to create the show, a 2016 Tony Award nominee for best musical. It will arrive in June 2018 at the Winspear Opera House as part of the 2017-18 season, announced recently.

People know Brickell for singing and writing songs for the New Bohemians, which scored its biggest hit with its first album, “Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars.” Brickell, who left Southern Methodist University to join the band in 1985, will perform two sold-out shows with lead guitarist Kenny Withrow, bassist Brad Houser, percussionist John Bush and original drummer Brandon Aly, April 14-16 at the Kessler in Dallas. (All shows are sold out.)

“Bright Star” was very different from the other best musical nominees in 2016. In a theatrical year that was defined by the bold storytelling and casting departures of “Hamilton,” it was unapologetically old-fashioned. A mystery based on a true tale about a baby who was thrown from a train, rescued and cared for by strangers, it takes place in 1945-46 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The bluegrass score includes songs from “Love Has Come for You,” the 2013 album that won a 2014 Grammy for its title song for Martin and Brickell.

Brickell, who is married to music legend Paul Simon and lives in Connecticut, grew up loving musicals. “Bright Star” sprang from a long-held dream to create the kind of work she still adores.

“‘The Sound of Music’ is hands-down the musical that I first loved, and it never gets old to me,” she says, adding that the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic was also the first film she saw on the big screen; she saw it as a child with her aunt at a dollar theater in Bedford. Now “Beauty and the Beast” has become a family favorite.

Just recently, she says, “We all sang songs from it as we walked through Central Park. My mom, the kids and I made each other laugh, trading lines. We had every voice, lyric and nuance memorized. ‘I need six eggs,’ ‘That’s too expensive.’ And on and on.”

Music was a constant in Brickell’s life as she grew up moving from apartment to apartment in Dallas. She always sang with her mother. Her late father got her a guitar when she was younger. Her stepmother took her to lessons in Mesquite, and she picked up songbooks, studied chords and began writing songs.

Yet she was too afraid to share her music even at Booker T. Washington. She took art classes and applied to only one college, SMU, because applications cost a daunting $50 apiece and she could only afford to go to a school within driving distance. She was accepted to study art, but increasingly, music called to her. One day, a group called the New Bohemians called her up on stage to join them. Soon she became its lead singer. As crowds began growing in her sophomore year, a tough decision loomed.

“It meant so much to my family that I got into a good school. But when I got more involved with the band, I wasn’t interested in school. I had a conversation with my mother and told her I would really love to take a year off. I told her if our band is not signed in one year, that will be my sign to go back to school. And she said the greatest thing: ‘You’re only young once. You’ve got to try for your dreams.’”

Eleven months later, just shy of her deadline, Geffen Records signed the New Bohemians. Their song “What I Am” became a top 10 hit, and their 1988 debut album sold more than a million copies.

“It was a miracle,” Brickell says.

In 1992, Brickell took time off to marry and raise three children with Simon. She continued to play off and on with the New Bohemians and produced a third album with them in 2006. She kicked off a new phase in her career after meeting Martin, a multi-Grammy Award-winning banjo player, at a party, and they collaborated on two bluegrass albums. They also discovered their shared love of classic musicals (Martin’s favorite is “The Music Man,” Brickell says). Soon “Bright Star” was on its way.

The show premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 2014 and played the Kennedy Center in Washington before moving to Broadway, where it picked up five Tony Award nominations. They didn’t win any, but they were told not to expect anything.

“Everyone told us that it was ‘Hamilton’ all the way. But we felt it was a win to be nominated. Steve and I wanted to make something that felt like a return to innocence that all ages can enjoy, with a character who moves through so much heartache but never loses her sense of hope. Everyone put their hearts and souls into that musical. We just wanted to make people feel good, and I think that aspect of our musical was recognized. It did make people feel good. I watched audiences night after night feeling so good, and that was the win right there.”

Brickell has seen the show multiple times and continues to be just as interested in the audiences as the performers. So if you get the funny feeling that someone is watching you watch the show at the Winspear, that might be Brickell.

“I’m going to have binoculars. I’m going to hide on the balcony on the side and watch the hairs on the backs of people’s heads. It’s very exciting to see how audiences respond. I’ll be bird-dogging them.”

Brickell has the theater bug now. She won’t disclose details, but she is working on something new.

“I had so much fun and I fell in love with the community. It was fascinating, it was gratifying and I felt really alive. I want to try again.”

She cried when the show closed on Broadway on June 26, she says.

“I wasn’t really ready to say goodbye. I was sad because it’s beautiful work with a beautiful cast and I didn’t want everyone to disperse like a dandelion wish in the breeze.”

The national tour, which has yet to announce its cast, and the stop in Dallas have picked up her spirits.

“I hope I’ll make Dallas proud. I think ‘Bright Star’ will make a lot of people feel good, and that will make me feel good.”

AT&T Performing Arts Center 2017-18 Broadway Season

Fun Home: Sept. 13-24

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Dec. 5-17

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King & I: Dec. 19-31

The Humans: May 8-20, 2018

Bright Star: June 12-24, 2018

Non-subscription specials:

Riverdance 20th Anniversary World Tour: March 20-25, 2018

Jersey Boys: May 22-27, 2018

  • Winspear Opera House, Dallas
  • Five-show subscription packages: $145-$625, with option to add “Riverdance” and “Jersey Boys” for $25-$113. On sale now.
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