Lush Score And Brilliant Cast Lead Us Into “The Bridges Of Madison County”

bridgesposterMusic and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown always means something exciting is in store. Add a book by Marsha Norman and you’ve got something special indeed. “The Bridges Of Madison County” opened at the Fox and it does not disappoint- at least not entirely. The original material is a bit soapy but Ms. Norman manages to keep the script moving at a decent clip. The real star here, however is the music and lyrics of Mr. Brown and the wonderful cast assembled for this production.

Andrew Samonsky, as photographer Robert, creates a dashing figure with a set of pipes to match. The soaring score seems to be made to have him perform it. With every  moment, he creates a spot in time that simply grabs you and holds you frozen in that moment. His act one closing duet with Francesca, “Falling Into You,” is simply one of the most romantic love songs I’ve heard in some time. He tops it with his second act closer as he packs up his memories in “It All Fades Away.”

bridges-kitchenembraceElizabeth Stanley is equally impressive. It takes a moment to get attuned to her Italian dialect as she opens the show with the exposition number, “To Build A Home,” which explains how she ended up in the middle of Iowa from her home in Italy. But it doesn’t take long to get an ear for her speaking and singing dialect thanks to her charm and humor as she discovers the mutual longing between her and Robert.

Her husband, Michael- a delightful performance by John Campione- has gone to the State Fair so their daughter Carolyn- a charming Caitlin Houlahan- can enter her prize steer in the competition. Tagging along is son Bud- a great performance as a rebellious teen by Cullen R. Titman. He gets into trouble by just “growing up” at the Fair.  Add to the mix the nosey neighbor and her husband- both who turn out to be friends in need- played by Mary Callanan and David Hess and you’ve got a top-notch cast.

bridges-bridgeMRobert has come to the Midwest to shoot photos for National Geographic of the many covered bridges that dot the landscape. You can feel the tension when he and Francesca first meet and the inevitable happens. When pop and the kids are gone for these four days, it turns into a torrid affair that has promise but circumstances become the catalyst for “will she go or will she stay.” A rather fast-forward second act shows what happens and how these two discover what’s “Always Better” in a poignant close to the show.

bridges-embraceA stellar supporting cast and ensemble help to make the show outstanding under the direction of Tyne Rafaeli using the original direction of Bartlett Sher. The simple but effective set design of Michael Yeargan works well with set pieces dropping in, rolling in and moving in from both wings. And the backdrop helps with the flatlands of Iowa and even wartime Italy as Francesca reminisces. Donald Holder’s lights add to the magic and the costume design of Catherine Zuber is right on the mark.

“The Bridges Of Madison County” should be a great show for a lot of regional theaters. A bit mature for high schools but colleges and continued road companies could benefit from this breathtaking score- especially benefitting, perhaps, from a smaller stage than the Fox. It’s lush, it’s romantic and, with this cast, a true delight. You’ve got to have the voices to power this wonderful music.

See “The Bridges Of Madison County” through April 17th at the Fox Theatre.

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