The Bridges of Madison County
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The Bridges of Madison County. Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (see Broadway). Book by Marsha Norman. Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Directed by Bartlett Sher. With Kelli O’Hara, Steven Pasquale. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
The Bridges of Madison County: In brief
First a best-selling book, then a 1995 movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, this tale of a photographer and the unhappy Italian wife he tenderly romances has returned as a Broadway musical. The score is by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years), while Marsha Norman wrote the book. Bartlett Sher directs Steven Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara as the lovers.
The Bridges of Madison County: Theater review by Adam Feldman
My eyes rolled a bit, I must confess, at the prospect of a Broadway musical based on Robert James Waller’s sentimental 1992 bestseller, The Bridges of Madison County (which also inspired a 1995 film with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood). But I must also admit that those same jaded eyes, by the end of the show, had misted up more than once; and judging from the waves of muffled sniffles around me, this was not an uncommon response. Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown’s adaptation earns those tears. The musical’s emotion is unapologetically grand, and its love duets have a wide, old-fashioned scope. Directed with spare precision by Bartlett Sher—reunited with most of his South Pacific design team—it’s a new work that plays like a classic.
The central romance remains locked in the familiar: a forbidden mid-1960s affair between the Italian-born Francesca (O’Hara), a war bride turned Iowa farmwife and mother, and Robert (Pasquale), the sensitive National Geographic photographer who helps dig up the sensuality that she has buried for years. (He’s a sexy rootless type in jeans and cowboy boots, plus he’s an artist and a vegetarian.) But the staging and writing add welcome layers of complexity and context, and Brown’s score combines consistently intelligent lyrics with diverse, inventive melodies. The strong cast includes Hunter Foster as Francesca’s husband, and Cass Morgan and Michael X. Martin as their neighbors; Whitney Bashor has small, striking turns as both Francesca’s sister and Robert’s ex-wife (for whom Brown has written a terrific coffeehouse-folk tune in a Joni Mitchell vein).
The night, however, belongs to its stars. Singing mostly in her luxurious upper register, O’Hara sounds ravishing, and she and Pasquale—in the performance of his career—generate that rarest of Broadway commodities: a genuine spark of erotic heat. Bittersweet weepie though it may be at heart, this Bridges burns brightly.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
THE BOTTOM LINE Romance comes sweeping down the plains in a passionate new musical.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam