Drawing from the 1992 bestseller by Robert James Waller, which would almost certainly have been an Oprah’s Book Club selection had Oprah started her club four years earlier, this 2014 Broadway musical set in the 1960s recounts a four-day affair between an Italian war bride turned Iowa housewife and a rootless photographer passing through to shoot the area’s covered bridges.
The 1995 film adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, reframed the story as a flashback, discovered by the woman’s adult children going through her effects after her death. Book writer Marsha Norman and composer Jason Robert Brown discard that frame, but they open their Bridges with Francesca (Kathy Voytko) looking back on the circumstances that brought her to her vaguely dissatisfied Iowa life. And in the show’s overlong denouement, they flash forward to reveal the extended aftermath of Francesca’s fling with Robert (Nathaniel Stampley).
That latter move is seemingly part of an understandable impulse to open out the world, but the attention to less interesting characters like Francesca’s whiny teenage children (or, more egregiously, an extraneous pair of nosy neighbors) has an unfortunate diffusing effect that undercuts the compelling connection built up by the beguiling Voytko and Stampley through the first act and half of the second.
But Brown’s score, working in a variety of musical idioms and frequently stirring, deserves to be heard, and Nick Bowling’s staging is a marvel; the director and scenic designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec open up the Marriott’s often stifling stage in impressive fashion.
Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Book by Marsha Norman. Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Directed by Nick Bowling. With Kathy Voytko, Nathaniel Stampley. Running time: 2hrs 40mins; one intermission.