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Photo via SHU Theatre

Shine bright with SHU Theatre

Seton Hall Theatre performed four consecutive shows of the musical “Bright Star” written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell at the South Orange Performing Arts Center from April 18 to April 21.

“Bright Star” follows Alice Murphy, editor-in-chief at the Ashville Southern Journal, who meets an aspiring writer returning from World War II who inspires her to reconnect with her past.

Stage manager Nayla Paula, a sophomore English and secondary education double major, said the musical took about three months to put together. She said “Theater is a collaborative process” and that seeing everyone’s hard work pay off felt amazing.

“I’ve seen it from the beginning—from the process of them just singing and then dancing and then acting,” Paula said. “I think [opening night] though, it really hit.”

Peter Reader, an associate professor of the Seton Hall theatre program and the director and producer of the musical, said organizing the production was one of the biggest challenges. However, he said the cast and crew, known jointly as a “company,” made the process easier since they work so well together.

“I have good people to work with,” Reader said. “They’re conscientious and they’re working hard—it helps a lot.”

Photo via Engage

Justin Del Valle, a sophomore theatre major, said he was most excited for audiences to see Reader’s completed vision of the musical. He said his character, Billy Cane, possesses a hopefulness that he wanted the audience, specifically other students, to connect with.

“My character has a lot of real things to happen to him,” Del Valle said. “There are a lot of dark moments in a college kid’s life, and it not only helps with my character to stay that hopeful, optimistic kind of guy but it also helps my mental sanity.” 

“You have to be honest to the role—as long as you’re honest, then suddenly your character is alive on stage,” he said.

Del Valle said the role challenged him more than ever before, specifically with his character’s maternal connection. 

“I had to push myself to put me in a place where I’d have to miss my mother,” Del Valle said. “I encapsulate my mother’s imagery during that in the best way I can. That is the hardest thing to do on that stage, and it’s gut-wrenching.”

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Moe Moffatt, a sophomore theatre and secondary education double major who played the lead, Alice Murphy, said learning the choreography for each song was the most difficult part of this production. Outside of rehearsals, Moffatt said making music playlists tailored to their character helped them get into the necessary mindset.

“You pull a bunch of songs that are relevant to your character’s story, their lived experiences, sometimes songs that you think the character would like,” Moffatt said. “For pretty much every line, I write down what motivates that line—why am I saying this, how do I feel about this other character in this scene—little character analysis things like that.” 

Bianca Purkis, a SOPAC usher, said Moffatt’s performance was deserving of all the praise they received from crowd members.

“She should be the [face] of this entire story,” Purkis said. “She’s got the voice of an angel!”

Naarah Asamoa, a sophomore criminal justice major, said she is thankful for all of the people she has met through the theatre program.

“With every person that you meet, you get to learn what their personality is like on and off stage,” Asamoa said. “It’s a really interesting time where you learn how to vibe with your fellow actors and create a masterpiece with them because it’s not just you on stage—it’s a whole community.”

“I feel a lot of love, support, friendship, and connection—we’re really grateful that we have the privilege to be in SHU Theatre,” she said.

Led by vocal director and conductor Kyle Blackburn, warm-ups before each show prompted the cast to stand in a line to stretch and practice their scales. Afterward, everyone lightly dispersed for microphone checks led by Paula. Once each of their names was called to speak, some members read short lines while others sang pop songs, including “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson and “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers.

Photo by Jillian Crain

Before doors opened for the final show, the company gathered on stage and distributed superlatives to winning members, with awards ranging from “Best Hair” to “Best Voice.” Each announcement was followed by a quick “woo!” from the crowd, the next one always getting faster and faster.

While the camaraderie of the group may help each show run smoothly, some cast members said they still get nervous before each performance, including Allen Thevarajah, a junior theatre and visual and sound media double major.

“There’s always that pre-anxiety before you get on stage and my trick is to smile it out, like a ‘fake it ‘til you make it,’” Thevarajah said.

Thevarajah said he loves recognizing family members in the crowd, but that same realization often worsens his nerves.

“My mom is my biggest fan, she always comes to my shows and tries to sit in the front row whenever she can,” Thevarajah said. “But she is also [my] biggest critic too, and I’m not even my mom’s favorite character in the show!”

Nile Polk, a junior political science major, said the opening night is the most nerve-wracking for him because “all of the practice is for naught if you cease up on stage.”

John Cartelli, a freshman political science and philosophy double major, said “the jitters” are the worst before opening nights, but they lessen after each show. He said being part of such a major production felt “inspiring,” especially given it is only his first year at Seton Hall.

“I’m looking forward to making my mark and trying to get our theater to be as inclusive and as big as it possibly can be,” Cartelli said. “I feel a lot of confidence and positivity about the future—these two semesters have been a lot of fun.”

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Photo via SHU Theatre

Billy Augustin, a junior political science and classical studies double major, said the creation of the production was not without its challenges, such as constructing the sets and trying to change scenes as quickly as possible.

“With a show of this scale, it is important to have a lot of people backstage and it’s important to know that we all know our responsibilities and keep track of that in our heads as well and move as a unit,” Augustin said. “It’s not exactly easy, but it’s still super fun.”

Augustin said she would love it if more students came out to support the theater program, encouraging people to follow Seton Hall Theatre’s Instagram.

Each show ended with a standing ovation and occasional excited hollers from the audience. One crowd member said the show was “absolutely fantastic.” An alumna of the program said she was so happy to see the program in “good hands.”

Paula said anybody is welcome to join the Seton Hall Theatre program regardless of major or previous experience.

“All I can say is if you think that theater is so cool, you should try and be a part of it,” Paula said. “We have such a good community among us, and we are open to everybody and everything—you’ll like it here.”

Mercer Santos writes for the Campus Life section. He can be reached at


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