Note: This is part of the"One of U" ongoing series featuring stories about the lives of faculty, staff and students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
By day, Curt Bright is a mild-mannered videographer, crafting stories for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
By night (and on weekends), Bright transforms into his alter ego — a tie-dye wearing, guitar-strumming, zany-lyric singing hero who cruises into communities and across local stages. No phone booth required.
Since 2004, Bright has teamed with his brother, Randy, and other local musicians to perform as the String Beans. The Lincoln-area, family-friendly band features a song catalog that spans from the silly to educational. And Bright, who writes the band’s songs and sings lead vocals, has transmogrified the work into a sesquicentennial video for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and four musicals.
The most recent musical, “The Shipwreck Show,” is being staged this summer by the Mesner Puppet Theater in Kansas City. His other shows, staged by multiple performance troupes, include two that feature Star Wars parodies and a Christmas zombie musical.
“I’ve been creating these little songs since I taught myself to play the guitar as a teen,” Bright said. “It’s hard for me to believe it, but I’ve written more than 100 songs for kids.”
Bright’s performing days started over a bonfire at his brother’s house in 2004. Encouraged to break out a guitar, Bright played “Bomp She Bomp,” a clever ditty about an adventurous polar bear befriending an alligator. The song drew encouragement from a local teacher who wanted to hear more.
Inspired by the accolades, the brothers developed a 30-minute mix of music and magic performed for the first time for kindergarteners at Norris Public Schools. It led to another gig (a request from a parent in attendance) and the official formation of the band — which the brothers named over a bowl of green beans during a family dinner.
“And then, someone heard us play and asked if we could play another show,” Bright said. “That’s how it’s mostly worked for us. Just people coming up asking if we would play for their church, school, nursing home, daycare or whatever.”
The String Beans have gone on to release nine albums — from “Gophers in Loafers” in 2005 to “Kiss a Fish” in 2017. Bright has also remixed two of the band’s earlier albums and a 10th CD is in development.
This summer, “Bomp She Bomp” is again flying high as the inspiration behind “The Shipwreck Show.” The production features eight String Beans songs and follows the adventures of a pirate captain trying to escape a deserted island.
The production is years in the making, having started — naturally — from a conversation after a String Beans performance.
“Mike saw us perform as a warm-up during Jazz in June many years ago,” Bright said. “He really liked ‘Bomp She Bomp’ and asked if he could use some of our music in his shows.”
Bright agreed, but the collaboration was delayed when Horner moved to Kansas City. The two have stayed in touch and staged two of Bright’s other musicals — both Star Wars parodies — before returning to the original idea.
The production — written by Bright, Horner and Chase Guthrie Knueven (a University of Nebraska–Lincoln graduate) — shows through June 30 at the MTH Theater at Crown Center, 2450 Grand Blvd., in Kansas City.
“Mike’s puppets and his stage presence really make for a great show,” Bright said. “He is incredibly creative in the way he puts things together.”
Even though they don’t (often) include wearing a cape, Bright said he has enjoyed his musical adventures and waits to see where they take him in the future.
“I have this fantasy that we get noticed by a record company or, maybe, Disney gives us a call,” Bright said. “Until that happens, I’m going to keep doing because it is fun. I love being part of the creative process and the challenge of putting together a catchy tune with a funny rhyme.”