BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The musical “Bright Star” will be presented by 4th Wall Theatre at the Westminster Arts Center for six performances beginning tomorrow evening. In the ensemble will be Bloomfield resident Sarah Levine McClelland.
In a recent telephone interview, McClelland said “Bright Star” is her fourth production with the theater company. All have been musicals, including “Ragtime,” “Fun Home” and “Sondheim on Sondheim.”
An actor by profession, McClelland studied theater at Sarah Lawrence College and holds a masters degree in acting from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in England. Her credits include Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway and regional theater. McClelland said she decided to take a break from pursuing acting full-time and took a corporate job a few years ago. About that time, she moved to Bloomfield and discovered 4th Wall Theatre.
“Most of what I did were straight plays,” she said. “I started with musicals and now do Shakespeare and classical theater.”
McClelland said she enjoys portraying characters who are different from herself and who have with a transformative element.
“Alison, in ‘Fun Home,’ was one of those characters,” she said. She’s based on a real person so I had a lot of background material to draw on. That’s enjoyable.”
But without that background, McClelland believes everything an actor needs to know about the character is in the text.
“If you have to do something to justify a character, it’s in the script,” she said. “It’s not the actor’s job to judge what a character does or says. It’s the actor’s job to justify it. You find it all in the text.”
A favorite character she has played is Celia, from “As You Like It.”
“She flies under the radar,” McClelland said. “She doesn’t get enough love and attention by people in general. They don’t think it’s a great part, but it’s a really fun part. I play a lot of supporting roles and Celia is a kind of definite supportive role.”
“Bright Star,” which had its world premiere in 2014, was written by Steve Martin, with music by Martin and Edie Brickell and lyrics by Brickell. The story is a flashback told in 1946 by a woman newspaper editor about having a child out of wedlock in 1923. She believes the baby to have been put up for adoption but discovers that a writer she has befriended is her long lost son.
Kate Swan is directing the 4th Wall production of “Bright Star.”
In creating a role, McClelland said she appreciates partnering with a director to discover the character.
“I will try anything once,” she said. “I think directors like me for that reason. I have trouble with directors with a definite idea coming in. … Kate is an incredibly thoughtful director. She really knows how to zero in on the heart of the story and I trust all of her choices will serve the story truthfully.
“I said I don’t do my best work when a director knows exactly what they want before rehearsals start. I much prefer to partner with them, try things out, and make those discoveries together in the rehearsal room. You can’t have that kind of relationship without trust. Kate and I worked very closely together when we were doing ‘Fun Home.’ I owe much of the success of that performance to the trust we had in each other.”
McClelland has studied Shakespeare for years. She said that while it is difficult, his words give the actor everything they need to know.
“There are so many clues,” she said. “Sometimes you know by the sound what the mood is suppose to be. If you don’t know where the emphasis is, it’s in the meter. And always with Shakespeare, the characters say what they mean.”
Modern characters, she said, are more about what they do not say.
“Bright Star” will be presented Friday and Saturday, June 7 and 8, at 8 p.m., Sunday, June 9, at 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 16, at 3 p.m. Admission will be charged. Westminster Arts Center is located at 449 Franklin St. in Bloomfield, on the Bloomfield College campus. For tickets, visit https://arts.bloomfield.edu/.