Steve Murray

Performing Arts Reviews

The Bridges Of Madison County 8 Kevin Berne 1

The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County
Marsha Norman (Book); Jason Robert Brown (Music & Lyrics)
Based on the Novel by Robert James Waller
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

Romantics will have a field day with TheatreWorks beautifully staged production of this popular 2013 musical, based on the 1995 smash film, based on the bestselling 1992 book by Robert James Waller.  Romantics come in many subtypes; this story will appeal to the ‘bored housewife meets exciting hunk-cheats on hubby for hot affair-reality sets in and love’s lost’ type. I’m a sucker for a Notting Hill/Casablanca plot line and Bridges tells its story well through Jason Robert Brown’s Tony-winning score.

L-R: Family members Carolyn (Jessia Hoffman), Bud (Timothy Gulan), and Michael (Matt Herrero) are at the dinner table as mother Francesca (Joan Hess) recalls her journey from Italy to Iowa. Photo by Kevin Berne

The story follows Francesca Johnson, an Italian war bride living a quiet, unrewarding life in 1965 Iowa. She’s got two kids, a solid husband and lots of homemaking to do. She sings of how she got to this moment in her life in the lovely opener “Building a Home”. When the family is off to the 4-H fair (East and West coast people, look it up), Francesca thinks she’s in for a relaxing few days of book reading and lounging. But a National Geographic photographer shows up looking for instructions to a covered bridge he needs to shoot. It’s love at first site, and flirtation turns to seduction, then sex.

Charlie (Martin Rojas Dietrich) eyes his wife Marge (Maureen McVerry) who is spying on the neighbor. Photo by Kevin Berne

This melodrama drives non-romantics nuts, who can’t forgive the sap and give themselves over to fairy tale. The better romances concede this as a given and focus on making their characters believable and sympathetic. Waller’s book succeeds in this regard; we start to feel for the revived Francesca and the lone wolf bachelor Robert, who has no roots and no love.

The score is lovely, full of sweeping ballads that are as large as the wide-open expanse of the night-filled Iowa sky. Robert tells Francesca how and why he takes pictures in “World Inside a Frame” and the couple ignite their affair in the beautiful “Falling into You”. The two stars of this production breathe life into their characters; soprano Joan Hess and tenor Rob Richardson wear their emotions of their sleeves.  Their affair is both restrained and torrid as it progresses. That their deep love is doomed to circumstances and obligations, delights the sad hearts of romantics everywhere. The star-crossed lovers had their brief Camelot and now they’ll always have Paris.

L-R: Francesca (Joan Hess) offers to make fresh soup for Robert (Rob Richardson).. Photo by Kevin Berne

A strong supporting cast features Timothy Gulan as Bud, Francesca’s cuckolded husband and Jessia Hoffman and Matt Herrero as the children Carolyn and Michael. Two scene stealers, Maureen McVerry and Martin Rojas Dietrich, star as the supportive next-door neighbors.  William Liberatore once again directs his fine orchestra as they move through the sweeping score that includes folk, bluegrass, country and opera.

Director Robert Kelley sets the atmosphere with a simple, sparse Iowa farm kitchen and a full stage backdrop of fluffy cumulus clouds lit with the ever changing, subtle pastels colors of summer. Scenic designer Wilson Chin and lighting designer Pamela Z. Gray deserve the credit for the stunning visuals. Every element of a TheatreWorks production is given exquisite attention and detail and The Bridges Madison County benefits from that expertise. Another winner for TheatreWorks.

The Bridges of Madison County continues through April 29, 2018 in production by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View.  Tickets are available online at http://www.theatreworks.org/box-office/ or by calling 650-463-1960.