THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, THE BROADWAY MUSICAL
When I read the book, The Bridges of Madison County (back when everyone was doing that, and I tried being a follower—yeah, guess how that turned-out?,) I was not a fan. And I’m a romantic! I don’t even know why it did nothing for me. Possibly it was because the author pretended it was based on a true story, which it was not, and I hate liars. Or maybe it was because I kept hearing that Oprah Winfrey, whom I find off-putting, was so into it. I never quite put my finger on my non-love for the book. I never saw the subsequent movie because I figured that it wouldn’t appeal to me, either.
So, I did not have high hopes for this musical version of the forbidden romance, whose Broadway tour opening night my friend, Alice, and I attended at the Ahmanson Theatre last week. But, as a surprise to even me, I loved it! (I’m still a bit in pain over it, though.) I believe the show writer, Marsha Norman, enhanced the original story more than a bit, which made the relationship of the two main characters so much more clear to me. It was shockingly good. Usually nothing lives up to my imagination of it, but this production is so much better than I had envisioned. [Note: As usual, you don’t need me to tell you the plot of a show. If you don’t already know this one, and don’t want to be surprised, look it up.]
The whole show had an air of being an older musical, (which is a good thing.) I feel like I would have seen it in New York when I was little, with Anna Maria Alberghetti as the star. (Wouldn’t she have made a perfect Francesca?!)
This company is made up of all people who were born to do musical theatre. Every single person who did a number in the show can really sing, especially Elizabeth Stanley as Francesca. That girl can saaang! What a pleasure to see a musical with no weaknesses in the abilities of the entire cast!
And I appreciated the variety of music. Recently, I had seen another new-ish musical with a pal, who had pointed-out that all the songs in that one sounded the same, and she may have had a point. But in The Bridges of Madison County, each song has a different musical vibe. There is everything from opera to funk to country to comedy. There are even a few surprise numbers, which I won’t ruin for you, (as other reviewers do.) The songs are so varied that it’s hard to believe they were all composed by just one man (Jason Robert Brown.) So, kudos to him. (But he doesn’t need me to praise him—he won the Tony Award for Best Original Score for this show!)
I loved the simple yet clever set, with a beautiful sky backdrop. It portrays everything it needs to with a modicum of representational scenery pieces. But I hate that the ensemble (who seem sort-of like “extras,” and in-costume stagehands because they also move the set on occasion,) sit on the sides of the stage very often. Seeing them just sit there, watching the principals along with me, took me a bit out of the action of the story. There’s no need for it, and it was distracting to me; I kept thinking that they’d probably rather be backstage, playing cards or snacking or something, rather than watching other actors say the same thing night after night. I know I would!
The casting is excellent all-around, although a few of us were having a hard time trying to figure-out what age the two lovebirds are supposed to be. I hate when that’s not defined enough.
There is one thing that’s a tad weird, though–Elizabeth’s comic delivery is spot-on, (yes, you read that right–there is comedy in this drama of romance and pain—lots of it!,) especially with one-word deadpan quips, but her accent is more Hungarian than Italian, the latter of which she’s supposed to be. She sounds just like a Gabor sister!
But I loved that they have an actual handsome man, Andrew Samonsky, playing one! (He may be a bit too hunky, though, to honestly have been alone for so long.) Alice told me to make sure I laud him properly. She said, “He’s not just a pretty face!” She was so impressed when he sang, as was I. She added, “He may just be a triple threat.”’ I agree—he can act, he can sing, and oh those abs!!!
The sensual scenes between the two leads in The Bridges of Madison County reminded me a bit of those in the film A Walk on the Moon. While the opening night audience at the Ahmanson wasn’t quite squirming in their seats, (as audiences in the screenings I attended of Walk… were doing during the “passion” scenes between Viggo Mortensen and Diane Lane,) this duo’s make-out seshes were pretty steamy, especially for a stage production, as opposed to film.
If you’ve ever had to choose between two paths, especially between love and duty, you may identify with the plight of the lovers in this one. I always feel that everything in life is The Road Not Taken, my favorite poem since I learned it in the seventh grade. But this is an especially painful, (though beautiful,) one to witness. Just make sure you bring enough tissues.
The Bridges of Madison County running through January 17, 2016
Ahmanson Theatre 135 N. Grand Ave. 213-972-4400 www.centertheatregroup.org