The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County

A few short weeks ago I wrote a post about the upcoming production of The Bridges of Madison County. It has since arrived on Broadway and is set to open on February 20th (check out photos here). So, how did it measure up to expectations? Honestly, it’s quite the mix.

Here’s the basic premise. It’s 1965 in Madison County, Iowa. We open on a housewife named Francesca (Kelli O’Hara), who lives with her husband Bud (Hunter Foster) and their two kids. Hubbie and the kids are heading out of town for a few days for some cattle steer contest thing that makes absolutely no sense to an East Coast girl like me. Fran is still adjusting to Iowan life. She’s originally from Italy and looks pretty darn bored with her daily chores in this flat town. Enter Robert Kincaid (Steven Pasquale)! He’s the dreamy, traveling photographer who pulls into town right when Fran’s family hits the road. Most everyone coming to this show knows that these two are destined to fall in love from the second he asks for directions to one of the covered bridges…of Madison County. And oddly enough, it’s these two we root for despite the fact that it’s an extramarital affair. Bud isn’t a bad guy by any means, but we still want this for Francesca.

The first act is like a beautiful, slow crescendo. It’s full of folksy tunes and soaring, lush ballads. It is also funnier than I expected. It’s hard to believe Steven Pasquale has never done a Broadway musical before, but finally audiences are getting a chance to hear his pipes, which of course sound amazing alongside the glory that is Kelli O’Hara (everything she touches is gold). The story relies on a strong bond between the two leads, and there is great chemistry between O’Hara and Pasquale. Over the course of Act I, the string on the violin is pulled tighter and tighter as the sexual tension builds between them. The ensemble isn’t used as effectively. They’re either under-utilized or one-dimensional. I like the snooping yet caring neighbor (Cass Morgan) for comedy purposes and also having a real face to the husband and kids out at the cattle event, but everything else somewhat fades to the background. Even the supporting characters feel like filler, because we are really just waiting for Robert and Francesca to be together.

It starts out so strong. All through the first half I was curious, longing for the next song, eager for the upcoming moment. That eagerness slowly faded during Act II. In fact, it turned into a distant memory. To sport a 90s reference, like the Energizer bunny, the show keeps going and going and going (running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes). The second act falls off track and turns into the same idea set to music over and over again. Want to hear another song about love? Here’s one. How about one about loss? Hit it! Oooh, love AND loss? That’s new! Bring it on. I know it sounds harsh, but I was disappointed to be disappointed.

I think it’s mainly a storytelling issue. After Robert and Francesca get together, there isn’t much left to cover or to fill the time. There is the fact that Fran is left with a decision to make: does she stay with her family or run off with Rob to take lots of pictures of bridges? The thing is, her decision is made sometime in Act II and then there is still another 20 minutes of material. All of a sudden we find ourselves in a montage time leap, jumping years into the future. I wonder if this happens in the movie/book as well. The plot problem reminds me of the “Moonlighting” curse which people like to bring up for every TV show known to man with a will-they-or-won’t-they couple. You know the drill: once a couple gets together, people assume the show will fall apart and lose viewers. I personally don’t think a relationship has to kill a show. Now, if the sexual tension was all the show had going for it, then there were problems to begin with. A couple can get together, but the writing has to keep up!

Musically, the two duets between Francesca and Robert are the big highlights: Falling Into You and One Second and a Million Miles. They also each have an 11 o’clock number, but by that point it’s all so repetitive we care less and less. Granted, it might just be me (and the people who were griping around me). I’m curious to see what the reviews will be and if changes are made during the preview period. I hear there are folks coming out of this show sobbing. So who knows? I like to think I’m a romantic and I always love to root for the couple, but the story left something to be desired after these crazy kids got together.

The Bridges of Madison County
Written by Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman, Directed by Barlett Sher
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, opening night February 20th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale

3 Comments on “The Bridges of Madison County”

  1. schnelman says:

    Whatever happens with the great Hunter Foster? Does he return in a big way in Act 2 or he totally underutilized as well?

    • You know I love Hunter. He’s in quite a bit of the show, but his character doesn’t hold the same weight as the main couple. I don’t want to spoil any of Act II though. He does get to sing some tunes, but Bud remains a supporting character throughout.

  2. L. Meltzer says:

    I recently saw “Bridges” in previews on Broadway and felt exactly the same as you did! I eagerly anticipated this beautiful storytelling drama of a life and love not fully realized. Having loved the book and movie it certainly had much to live up to. The brilliant Kelli O’hara and Steven Pasquale did the storyline justice, and their love songs carried much of the show! However Act II was hugely disappointing as the writers seemed to run out of steam (and story) and seemed like a quick predictable fast-forward of Francesca’s safe boring life choice. It seemed cheap and hokey at times! The other actors were written as caricatures. It did not even come close to the depth and intensity of the characters in the movie!

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