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‘Bright Star’ musical inspired by bluegrass and banjos

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Edie Brickell and Steve Martin co-wrote the bluegrass-fueled musical “Bright Star.” (Courtesy Danny Clinch)
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Folk artist Edie Brickell believes that “Bright Star” — the Tony-nominated, bluegrass-fueled musical that she developed with actor-musician Steve Martin — resonates with audiences because it’s got plenty of heart.

“There are people so weary with the cynicism and vulgarity in our culture today that just hunger for something like this,” said Brickell, 51. “I believe in true, lasting love and in the goodness of people. There’s so much love to go around that it’s an illusion to imagine that it could ever be killed.”

Set in Asheville, N.C., just after World War II, the musical stars Tony-nominated actress Carmen Cusak as Alice Murphy, a literary journal editor forced to face the memory of her lost child upon encountering and mentoring a young, aspiring fiction writer (A.J. Shively). “Bright Star” opens at the Curran on Tuesday and runs through Dec. 17.

It was working with Martin on the Grammy-winning 2013 album, “Love Has Come For You,” that initially inspired Brickell — best known for the 1988 Top 7 hit “What I Am” — to collaborate with him on a musical. Martin would handle the music, and Brickell the lyrics.

“The sound of a banjo tune Steven sent me one day reminded me of a train,” Brickell recalled. “That, in turn, made me think of the bluegrass anthem, ‘Orange Blossom Special.’ Then, I thought I’d just try to write a bluegrass song about a train.”

Googling to find a locomotive to base her song on, she came across the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway train and the real-life story of the Iron Mountain Baby, who, back in 1902, was thrown off one of its railway cars — and survived.

“I could not believe it,” she said. “It was such a horrible thing that turned out to be miraculous and beautiful, so I wrote ‘Sarah Jane And The Iron Mountain Baby.’ We then took different elements of the songs on [‘Love Has Come For You’], and Steve marvellously connected the dots and created this world where this event could happen. We wanted to figure out why and how somebody would do that. That’s how ‘Bright Star’ came together.”

After undergoing a three-year development process, “Bright Star” made its Broadway debut at New York’s Cort Theatre, in 2016. The national tour began last month at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre, before heading up to San Francisco for the holiday season.

The musical’s emphasis on love and family makes it the perfect holiday fare, according to Brickell, whose marriage to Paul Simon still burns bright after 25 years.

“It opens up your heart and fills it with empathy,” Brickell said. “It celebrates relationships and love and informs us all how to be better people. It reminds us to hold on and love when you have the opportunity to love and never give up.”

IF YOU GO

Bright Star

Written by: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Where: Curran, 445 Geary St,, S.F.
When: Nov. 28 – Dec. 17
Tickets: $39 to $175
Info: (415) 358-1220, www.sfcurran.com

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