THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY: Musical. Book by Marsha Norman. Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Based on the Novel by Robert James Waller. Directed by Robert Kelley. TheatreWorks, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. (650) 463-1960 or www.theatreworks.org. April 4 – 29, 2018.
The Bridges of Madison County the musical handsomely staged by TheatreWorks.
You may have read the novel and/or seen the movie and now you have the opportunity to judge the merits of The Bridges of Madison County as a musical. The plot is hardly a Barbara Cartland pot boiler but there are sufficient plot twist qualities that are probably more appreciated by her loyal readers. The rest of us must be content with the fine production helmed by Robert Kelley with book by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown who are multiple award winners for their work.
In a simplistic plot summary it is 1965 and the place is a farm in Winterset, Iowa. Francesca (Joan Hess) is an Italian War bride living with husband Bud (Timothy Gulan) and their two teenage children Carolyn (Jessica Hoffman) and Michael (Matt Herrero). Bud and the kids are going to the State Fair where Carolyn’s steer is being judged at a Four H exhibit leaving Francesca a few days of freedom.
Into this setting arrives roving National Geographic photographer Robert (Rob Richardson) filming the Bridges of Madison County. He is looking for the Roseman Bridge that is the last to be photographed and has lost his way. He knocks on Francesca’s door to ask directions. She being a good neighbor leads him to the bridge. It is the start of a relationship.
The action of the play occurs over three days allowing more than apply time for Norman and Brown to whip up some fine words and music. They won the 2014 Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Orchestrations. Both Hess and Richardson are in fine voice with Hess giving a soaring performance with music and lyrics that require a shifting of registers that she handles smoothly giving great feeling to the words. More than occasionally the operatic lyrics are difficult to understand diminishing their expressive meaning. The major/minor objection to this musical is the pacing where it seems to take forever for the couple to finally reach the bedroom.
Although most of the evening is intense humor and back stories have been cleverly written into the script. Maureen McVerry and Martin Rojas Dietrich as Marge and Charlie are absolutely perfect as neighbors who know what is going on but it is their secret. The scenes at the Fair and the country songs add a much needed respite and director Kelley has pulled out all stops to pick up the pace after a long first act.
The ending is a direct steal from the play Our Town and strongly suggests that Francesca made the right choice keeping the love of her family her primary focus. Yet, the penultimate scenes with Francesca and Robert miles apart yet still in love brought out the handkerchiefs.
As usual the production values at TheatreWorks almost steal the show but Kelly does not allow them to get in the way of a love story that asks “What if?”
Running time is two hours and 40 minutes with a 15 minute intermission that could be shortened without detracting from the entire show.
CAST: Joan Hess as Francesca; Timothy Gulan as Bud; Matt Herrero as Michael, Bud and Francesca’s son; Jessica Hoffman as Carolyn, the daughter of Bud and Francesca; Maureen McVerry as Francesca’s nosy neighbor Marge; Christine Capsuto as Chiara, Francesca’s sister; Courtney Stokes as Robert’s former wife Marian; Sean Fenton as Paolo.
CREATIVE TEAM: Directed by Robert Kelley; Musical Director William Liberatore; Scenic Designer Wilson Chin; Costume Designer Fumiko Bielefeldt; Lighting Designer Pamila Z. Gray; Sound Designer Jeff Mockus; Stage Manager Karen Szpaller; Assistant Stage Manager Emily Anderson Wolf.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.