I suppose I should preface everything I'm about to say about the new Jason Robert Brown musical The Bridges of Madison County with the following disclosures: first, I have never read the book upon which it is based; second, I've never seen the film version; and third, I saw a very early preview of this production. Although I try not to read the message boards to see what people are saying, I have kept up with it marginally, to find out if any major changes were made. I understand that the consensus is that the preview period has been used effectively to tighten things up. All of that said, I have rarely seen a musical so early in previews that has been in such amazing shape. Regardless of when I saw it, I can say that Bridges is an emotional, slyly thought-provoking musical.
|Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale|
|Hunter Foster and Kelli O'Hara|
Catherine Zuber's costumes are character-specific without intruding on the proceedings. I imagine it is, in some ways, more difficult to dress a cast in period street clothing than in lavish, over-the-top Broadway productions. Donald Holder's lighting is equally unintrusive, while still helping to paint the stage with emotional pools of light and evocative shadows. Jon Weston's suggestive set pieces and use of the full expanse of the stage are perfectly in keeping with the small cocoon of a single Iowa farm house, while also providing for the vastness of the prairie. All of these elements are superbly rendered in light of the directorial vision of this piece.
Bartlett Sher's direction is both theatrical and grounded in realism, with nods to both Oklahoma!, and even more so Our Town (right down to the umbrellas). It makes sense that the more theatrically staged sections of the show are all to do with the central romance, while the more realistically staged scenes are given over to the comings and goings of the community that surrounds the romance. It gives me chills to recall Sher's use of the ensemble as observers of the action as they sit still in chairs placed on the sides of the stage, and as stage hands as they ethereally weave in and out of scenes (many as they are in progress!), moving set pieces and various props. The show also features one of the most beautifully rendered scenes that combines all of the elements, when Francesca remembers her past in Italy. It brought to mind the equally engrossing staging of the Count Ludovic/Fosca's past flashback in Passion. I always love a staging that does things that can only really be done live that never forget the themes of the story. This gorgeous staging is the antithesis of Sher's manic, fussy staging of Women on the Verge.
|Derek Klena and Caitlin Kinnunen|
|Cass Morgan and Michael X. Martin|
Everyone involved has created a slice-of-life show that demands your attention and your own participation in seeing every nuance of a complex community/family/romantic relationship. The message is simple, but like in life, understanding that takes some effort. It seems no matter how isolated you feel, the chance for something bigger may just come into your life and change you forever. Not bad for a Broadway musical.
Photos by Joan Marcus