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After a long lead-up, ‘Bright Side’ gets in tune

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From left: Maverick Hiu, Victoria Matlock and Robert Torti of Bright Side.
Ryan Reason
Jacob Coakley

Everyone needs help, but not everyone knows how to ask for it. That’s the story of a new musical from Cockroach Theatre, but it’s certainly not the story behind how it all came to be. Bright Side, an original musical from Las Vegans Jolana Sampson (music and lyrics), Martin Kaye (music) and Ernie Curcio (book), opens this weekend at Art Square Theatre, and has involved a whole lot of other people, too, something that fits right in with the story at the heart of the show.

The story follows Richard, a macho Air Force mechanic diagnosed with breast cancer. “At first he’s in denial, and he doesn’t believe it’s true,” Sampson says. “He doesn’t even know if he should worry his family about it, because he doesn’t believe it’s happening himself. Through the progression of what happens to him, his whole perspective on life changes. His relationships change; he views his son and his wife in a different perspective than he does at the beginning of the play.”

As you might guess from the subject matter, Bright Side is not a kick-line and smile kind of musical, hewing closer to a modern sensibility with an intimate, realistic story that uses music as a lens on emotionally tangled territory—something that led to a few tangles in the process. The show has been extensively rethought in its life, and the opening was delayed to give the team more time to sharpen the story in rewrites. “We got to a point where we literally rewrote the whole thing,” Sampson says. “We took bits and pieces, but even those bits and pieces that we took nine months ago were rewritten.”

Kaye adds, “I remember sitting in my apartment, and you said, ‘We’re scrapping the whole thing; we’re starting again.’ I was like, how can you do that? You’ve got like 100-and-something pages, and you’ve written all these songs? How can you scrap it and throw it away? But it was absolutely the right decision.”

The team was able to streamline the show into a “bullet train” of emotion and song, and now it’s time to bring it to life. The theater is abuzz with technicians creating the set, musicians learning their parts, and actors singing along with full orchestration for the first time. “We’re at the place where we are hearing other people learn our music and then sing it back to us and portray the characters—that’s surreal,” Kaye says. “It’s very magical.”

“This whole process started off at a coffee shop with an idea,” Sampson says. “And it’s grown into this beautiful masterpiece that has taken a village.”

Bright Side Through June 5; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $16-$20. Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. 1st St. #110, 702-818-3422.

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