Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Brokenhearted "Bridges of Madison County"

From Book to Movie to Musical 

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Some stories seem to be everlasting, and that of the brokenhearted lover seems to be one of them.

There is no simpler way to describe The Bridges of Madison County, currently running at the Orpheum Theater, than that. Based on the book (and later Clint Eastwood/Meryl Streep film) of the same name, The Bridges of Madison County follows Francesca, a lonely, Italian-born housewife, as she engages in a passionate love affair with a National Geographic photographer named Robert while her family is away.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Though their time together is short, Francesca and Robert's love burns hot, lasting for years after they part ways. While Francesca and Robert are enjoying each other, her husband Bud is watching their children Michael and Carolyn as they compete in a national farm competition. These fair-based, country-strong scenes are interspersed throughout the love story and help ground the show in a semblance of reality.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Elizabeth Stanley perfectly captures Francesca's pensive nature and has a gorgeously pitched voice, although it is hard to understand at times. You catch her gist by the third time around, but it does take some concentration to discern her lyrics. Andrew Samonsky is perfectly cast as Robert, hitting all of the right musical and physical notes. He perfectly conveys the forlorn wanderer, and has the lanky physique to go with it. Cullen Titmas grows into his role as Bud and his countri-fied voice is a fine contrast to the more Josh Groban-esque nature of Robert's songs. Mary Callanan and David Hess are absolutely hilarious as Bud and Francesca's neighbors Marge and Charlie (respectively). Seriously: this show cries for some humorous perspective, and those two have it in spades. They totally save the day.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
This is not your average Broadway musical. You won't find any sequins or dazzling lights, no jazz hands or tap dance numbers. The core of The Bridges of Madison County, and its strength, is in its quiet presence, echoing Francesca's entire existence. It slowly pulls at you like waves lapping on a shore, taking you in with lyrical, almost operatic, atonal music. The contrast between the remorseful strings and soaring passion of the lovers' songs and the downright po-dunk but heartfelt nature of the fairgrounds and family is pretty stark, and best appreciated by true music nerds.

A facet of interest to Minnesotans is that this entire tale is set in Iowa. It was refreshing to see the Midwest displace the shiny, grimy cities of so many other musical dreams, and it definitely lent a more severe character to the set. The single scrim was painted in a simple cornfield that was periodically washed with gorgeous lighting to depict times of day, including some truly lovely sunsets. Set pieces consisted of a bed, the bones of a kitchen, and a backlit tree whose simplicity suited the quiet of the story, and Iowa.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Something about this show lingered with me, and I think that quietness is it. The Bridges of Madison County is searingly anti-climactic. There is no large conflict, no rending of garments, no packing of bags and fleeing of towns. Francesca and Robert's affair is just that - a brief moment, remembered fondly and often, but not enough to break up a family over. It lacks the heated nature that tends to drive so many stories, but in that way more mirrors real life. It's well suited to the Midwest, and I hope it has a good run here.

The Bridges of Madison County is a treat for music lovers and fans of true blue romance. For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.