Okay – time for confession. Number One. I read The Bridges of Madison County straight through 20 or so years ago. It was a rainy weekend in L.A. and I read it straight through. I suppose that the fact I COULD read it in one sitting might be a tip off that it was not great literature. Still the story stayed with me. And I remember being pissed off that this couple had four days and no more. Jeeze Louise –
Number two – I have not been a fan of Kelli O’Hara. Yes I am that person – the one and only who found her lovely to look at and listen to but without depth.
I have pretty much changed my mind on the latter, but still think the outcome of the story sucked.
Anyway – this is the story of an Italian immigrant, Francesca (Kelli O’Hara) who married an American soldier, Bud (Hunter Foster) at the end of World War II, to get out of Italy. He took her to Iowa where she made a life and was grateful for that. Until 18 or so years later when the kids and husband are off to the State Fair, and a photographer walks up to her door and asks directions to a local bridge. Robert (Steven Pasquale) is on assignment for National Geographic and comes complete with a single reflex 35mm camera on hand. There is nothing digital in this story – phone, camera or otherwise.
The innocent encounter pulls them together against their better judgment. In spite of the neighbors nearby they release their hearts to open pasture. They fall deeply and forever in love. They even consider running away together, until Francesca remembers her children and what such a departure would do to them. And what that in turn would do to her husband.
The book here is so-so, and the music isn’t anything you can hum to, but it is the music that connects O’Hara and Pasquale. It is the music about which both are passionate, and when they sing together it is a trascentant moment. In many ways this could have been a two person concert and we would have gotten the gist. What is missing is the passion. O’Hara and Pasquale act more like old friends (and I believe they are) than two lovers who know they are leaping off a cliff together. They are gentle and kind and innocent with one another. They are not passionate, especially. Simple as that.
In addition the entire supporting cast spends more time moving set pieces than performing. Four of them have solos, two of which are lovely but of no meaning, but they barely make a dent in the story. The kids squabble over everything at the State Fair, and the husband is doing his best to keep herd on them while checking in with Francesca periodically and mentioning that she sounds different.
One technical note that was distracting is that O’Hara’s microphone was louder than anyone else’s on the night I was there. Even her whispers were full volume. Pasquale made up for it with his singing, but he and everyone else are one or two notches lower on the sound scale. Hunter Foster gave a terrific performance in Hands On A Hardbody so I know he has a set of pipes on him. They were muted with the microphone here. An odd affect,and one wonders if it was on purpose or an error of the evening. It is as though O’Hara is the only voice the director wants us to hear.
The upshot is that there are only two people who matter on the stage, the first is O’Hara who is omni-present and when O’Hara and Pasquale sing, the angels sigh. Too bad it couldn’t be just that simple an evening.
The Bridges of Madison County
Book by Marsha Norman; music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, based on the novel by Robert James Waller; directed by Bartlett Sher; music director, Tom Murray; movement by Danny Mefford; sets by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Donald Holder; sound by Jon Weston; hair and wig design by David Brian Brown; orchestrations by Mr. Brown; music coordinator, Michael Keller; associate producers, Steven Strauss, Michael Crea and P J Miller; technical director, Hudson Theatrical Associates; production stage manager, Jennifer Rae Moore; company manager, Katrina Elliott; general manager, 101 Productions. Presented by Jeffrey Richards, Stacey Mindich, Jerry Frankel, Gutterman Chernoff, Hunter Arnold, Ken Davenport, Carl Daikeler, Michael DeSantis, Aaron Priest, Libby Adler Mages/Mari Glick Stuart, Scott M. Delman, Independent Presenters Network, Red Mountain Theater Company, Caiola Productions, Remmel T. Dickinson, Ken Greiner, David Lancaster, Bellanca Smigel Rutter, Mark S. Golub and David S. Golub, and Will Trice, with Warner Bros. Theater Ventures and the Shubert Organization, in association with Williamstown Theater Festival. At the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, 236 West 45th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
WITH: Kelli O’Hara (Francesca), Steven Pasquale (Robert), Hunter Foster (Bud), Michael X. Martin (Charlie), Cass Morgan (Marge), Caitlin Kinnunen (Carolyn), Derek Klena (Michael) and Whitney Bashor (Marian/Chiara).