A nice warmth emanates from Legacy’s ‘Bright Star’

Not all theater musicals need be extravagant, exorbitant spectacles on the scale of, say, “The Phantom of the Opera” or “Moulin Rouge.” If only more of them weren’t so inclined to overblown production values, often at the literal expense of genuinely identifiable characters and stories.

Some of us would probably dread — or, at the very least, hardly relish — the idea of ever seeing shows like those undertaken on the comparatively modest budget of Tyrone’s Legacy Theatre. Then again, we might be no more keen about the prospect of seeing a musical as plain and simple as “Bright Star” dressed up with all the fancy stylistic accessories that are usually on tap at a major-league company like the Alliance or City Springs.

With a script written by the venerable comedian (and accomplished banjo player) Steve Martin, and featuring a score of 20 or so bluegrass songs composed by Martin and Edie Brickell, the quaint story is set in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains region of North Carolina. It alternates between the “big city” of Asheville in the mid-1940s and flashbacks to the remote community of Zebulon in the mid-1920s.

Under the deft direction of artistic director Mark Smith, Legacy’s “Bright Star” benefits immensely from its no-frills approach. The show unfolds on an essentially bare stage, situated only with several chairs, a few tables and benches, and various trunks and luggage to represent set pieces. Cast members take their places on either side, where they remain seated, observing the action at center stage, until their own characters are needed for this or that particular scene.

Credit: STEVE THRASHER

Credit: STEVE THRASHER

The production relies mainly on the exceptional projection design of Bradley Bergeron to help establish the different locations of the scenes — the front door of a cabin, the shelves of a bookstore, a graveyard headstone, a running mountain stream, a full moon or starry night sky in the woods, the view from the back of a moving train. Bergeron’s work is extremely effective without calling too much attention to itself. And the same can be said for Eric Pitney’s atmospheric lighting.

The 1920s flashbacks (partly inspired by the folkloric tale of the “Iron Mountain Baby”) detail the star-crossed romance between Alice, an underprivileged free spirit from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks, and Jimmy Ray, the idealistic son of the town’s wealthy, corrupt mayor. When she gets pregnant, he wants to do the responsible thing, but their fathers collude to make other arrangements.

By the 1940s, Alice has become a “wallflower” and the editor of a respected literary journal, who finds a promising protege in Billy, a young aspiring author and soldier newly returned home from World War II. She senses in his writing a “flair for gentleness and tenderness,” but she also encourages him to try his hand at a “sweeping tale of pain and redemption — like all Southern writers.”

As played by Kelli Dodd, there isn’t a lot of distinction between the younger and older Alice, aside from letting her hair down as the girl and wearing it up as the woman. Similarly, Truman Griffin’s Jimmy Ray is scantily clad in a T-shirt for the early scenes and then puts on a nice suit in the later ones.

Credit: STEVE THRASHER

Credit: STEVE THRASHER

Their acting performances are fine, but they chiefly excel in their musical numbers (accompanied by a prerecorded instrumental track): her solos “If You Knew My Story” and “Way Back in the Day”; and their duets “What Could Be Better,” “I Can’t Wait” and “I Had a Vision.” Caleb Peters (as Billy) also nails his delivery of the title tune. (Chris Brent Davis is billed as the show’s music director.)

The singular false note among all of the songs is the rollicking honkytonk routine “Pour Me Another Round.” With due respect to the talents that are principally on display in it — performers Mandy Corbett and Dennis Hartman as a pair of relatively extraneous supporting characters, and the choreography of Bethany Hayes Smith — it’s precisely the sort of loud and flashy production number that, otherwise, the rest of “Bright Star” so admirably and refreshingly resists


THEATER REVIEW

“Bright Star”

Through May 8. 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $30-$45. Legacy Theatre, 1175 Senoia Road, Tyrone. 404-895-1473. www.legacytheater.com.

Bottom line: Nicely done, plain and simple.