The musical, a homespun fable with a bluegrass-infused, Americana score, earned mixed reviews from critics, but emerged as one of the big surprises in the race for the Tony Awards. The title picked up five nominations, including one for best musical alongside four titles that had seemed more likely industry picks (“Hamilton,” “Shuffle Along,” “Waitress,” “School of Rock”). As one of those nominees, “Bright Star” got a performance slot during the Tony telecast, although the closing notice makes plain that the TV spotlight didn’t spur enough of a box office spike to hold on through the summer.
A number of hurdles made it difficult for the musical to connect with potential ticketbuyers. For one thing, the story of “Bright Star” is entirely original, with no underlying tie to a familiar property. Its most famous collaborator, Martin, doesn’t actually appear in the show, and he’s far better known as a comedian than as a banjo player and composer. On top of all that, the music itself is an unusual-for-Broadway mix of genres that proved hard to describe, much less sell to consumers.
Since it began previews in late February, “Bright Star” has seen sales fluctuate but remain relatively low; the weekly box office broke the $500,000 mark for the first time only last week. Producers and investors may face a near-total loss on their $11.5 million investment, although at least some of that money may be recouped should the musical hit the road, where the heartland-America tale seemingly has the potential to click. In addition, the show’s cast recording has found success on a handful of Billboard charts.
Directed by Walter Bobbie and starring Tony nominee Carmen Cusack, “Bright Star” closes June 26 at the Cort Theater.