I must be getting soft in my old age, because I rather liked Bridges of Madison County. I better turn in my Fringe card and buy a mini-van.
The touring run of Bartlett Sher’s Tony-winning Broadway production, currently in brief residence at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater is a schmaltzy, cornball slice of middle-of-the-road Americana, aimed squarely at sentimental audiences who have already read the book and seen the movie. It’s cheesy, but darn if it isn’t a well-made block of cheddar.
I have not read the novel nor seen the film, so my familiarity with the story is based on cultural osmosis.
Set on a 1960’s Iowa farm, Bridges concerns the extra-marital affair between Francesca (Elizabeth Stanley), trapped in a stifling marriage far from her homeland of Italy, and Robert (Andrew Samonsky), a hunky National Geographic photographer fate brings to Francesca’s door. Theirs is a relatively chaste affair. One driven more by plot necessity than actual character. One of those bodice-rippers that doesn’t include much actual bodice-ripping. Richard and Francesca’s whirlwind affair is rather chaste one.
Most anytime the sexual tension between the two hits anywhere near a boil, it’s undercut by a throwaway joke, a device that becomes increasingly eye-roll worthy as the show goes on. One can hardly believe it took a Marsha Norman (Marsha Norman!!!) of all people to pen the adaptation. Stanley and Samonsky both have lovely voices, but Bridges is one of those shows where we’re expected to believe these people have fallen in love in a matter of minutes because they keep saying they do, rather than bowling us over with raw chemistry.
Bridges is largely sung through, and Jason Robert Brown’s(Parade, The Last Five Years) nostalgic songs are often serviceable and sometimes lovely. Oddly, some of the best music is some old school-country from a state-fair based subplot that could largely have been excised from the two and a half hour show. “It All Fades Away”, a late solo lament sung by Samonsky is also a highlight. Those lucky enough to catch the first week of performance will find the composer himself conducting the show, and doing so emphatically.
The Bridges of Madison County
closes July 17, 2017
Details and tickets
There are some fantastic performances in the supporting cast, including Mary Callanan in a surprisingly sympathetic take on the nosy neighbor trope, and Caitlin Houlahan as Francesca’s farm life-obsessed daughter Carolyn.
Allow me to take a moment to make special moment to credit lighting designer Donald Holder, who has created one of my new favorite lighting designs. His use of color to denote passage of time, as simple as that may seem, is gorgeously executed here. He also uses practical lighting to some stunning effect. Kudos also to set designer Michael Yeargan, who creates a surprisingly impressionistic Iowa farm town. I especially liked the relatively simple design for the titular bridge, and liked the visual metaphor of it being routinely put together by the townspeople of the ensemble. It was a nice twist on the play’s theme of valuing community and family over individual desires, no matter how hunky he may be.
The Bridges of Madison County: book by Marsha Norman, Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. The based on the novel by Robert James Waller. Original Director: Bartlett Sher; Tour Direction: Tyne Rafaeli; Music Direction: Keith Levenson; Set Design: Michael Yeargan; Sound Design: Jon Weston; Lighting Design: Donald Holder; Costume Design: Catherine Zuber; Stage Manager: Roy A. Gross. Through July 17th, 2016 at The Kennedy Center. Reviewed by Ryan Taylor.