I am just not sure if I would be willing to cross this bridge again.
Never having seen the movie or read the book, I went into the production of The Bridges of Madison County—being staged at The Fabulous Fox through April 17—with an open mind. I had heard whispers that the story was a tear-jerker and about how it dealt with matters of the heart. Seeing how it won the 2014 Tony for Best Original Score I was intrigued, musically. Unfortunately, the story lacked the same finesse and care given to the sublime music of the show.
Set in 1965 Iowa, the story centers on Francesca (Elizabeth Stanley), an Italian housewife whose family had just left to attend the national 4-H fair, and Robert (Andrew Samonsky), a National Geographic photographer who came to Madison County to take photos of the covered bridges. As you can expect, one thing leads to another and Francesca and Robert have a torrid love affair. Once Francesca’s family returns home, she must decide which emotional bridge to cross.
As mentioned before, the score of the show is outstanding. The only problem I had was understanding Stanley’s vocals with her heavy Italian accent. Her vocals were heavenly, but the pronunciation was perhaps too sophisticated for my hearing. While I appreciated the tone of her voice, whatever she was singing was lost on me which perhaps led me to miss out on key points of the story.
That being said, there were several highlights of the score including “Get Closer” performed by Marge (Mary Callanan); “
“When I’m Gone” performed by Charlie (David Hess) and company; and the number that the was the real star of the night, “It All Fades Away” performed by Samonsky.
Another highpoint of the show was the actual scene changes of the show. Normally, it annoys me when the cast does the scene changing, but in this production, it was intriguing to watch. Each of the actors who had a hand in this aspect did it flawlessly and with great care. Every time they built the bridge or assembled the town it was a joy to watch them work in tandem.
The problem with the story is it had little time to develop. With so many songs to perform, the chemistry between Francesca and Robert failed to materialize. It appeared that Francesca was just looking for someone to rescue her from her own life and Robert just happened to show up at the right time.
While their bedroom scenes were sexy, I never got fully on board with how fast it took for Francesca to claim she’d fallen in love with Robert in such a short time. It was hard for me to feel empathy towards her. Quite the opposite, I began to feel empathy towards her husband and family thinking they might be better off without her.
The actual story did have some comedic high points. Stanley delivered some of the best lines of the night with her dry Italian accent perfectly. But a handful of funny lines does not make up for the heat the story lacked.
The Bridges of Madison County is a perplexing production. While I wasn’t sure where to place my emotions regarding the characters, the score was more than enough to satisfy my musical appetite. I am just not sure if I would be willing to cross this bridge again. | Jim Ryan
The Bridges of Madison Country runs at The Fabulous Fox through April 17. For ticket information, visit http://www.fabulousfox.com/.