The Bridges of Madison County Review - Over the Rainbow

 

Loosely based on the novel and movie of the same name, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is now a musical which has found a message. Unlike other interpretations of the story, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is told from the perspective of the lovely Francesca (Elizabeth Stanley), rescued by an American soldier from post-WW II-torn Italy and transplanted to the quiet and gentle farmlands of Iowa. And there she heals her pain and personal losses with the help of her hardworking, no-nonsense husband, the kindly (and nosey) neighbors, and the friends always present through thick and thin. Such contentment almost masks a poignant yearning for an earlier Naples, now morphed in a different city - probably as rebuilt as Francesca is herself. Enter Robert (Andrew Samonsky), a rootless National Geographic photographer who is taking shots of well-known covered bridges in the area. When he gets lost on his way to the last bridge, Robert finds himself on Francesca’s family farm asking directions. And it just so happens that her family is away visiting the State fair with their prize steer. Predictably, tiny sparks will ignite and burst into flame.

 

Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley - Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

This is a tale of finding a special, timeless love, a love that survives in memory after only three days in fact. At the same time, it is a story of the special love for family and community which supersedes personal passion. THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is reminiscent of the fanciful story of Dorothy, who ventures into the world of Oz - but longs for and is finally returned to the home of her heart. So too Francesca grows to realize that her home is now Iowa in the embrace of her husband and children and surrounded by her neighbors and friends. Dreams may make life worth living - but reality will always have a unique pull that cannot be ignored. This message has lifted THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY from the commonplace and even trite story of a short-term love affair to a musical prayer about the value of family, friends, and community.

 

 

Dave Thomas Brown, Tom Treadwell, Coile Burton, Cullen R. Titmas, Elizabeth Stanley, David Hess, Mary Callanan, Caithlin Houlahan, Matt Stokes - Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is based on the book by Marsha Norman (from the novel by Robert James Waller) and directed with a firm yet gentle hand by Bartlett Sher. The ubiquitous cast are the ever-present Greek chorus, amply demonstrating that no one in this play is ever truly alone; they also double as stage hands moving around parts of the set. At every moment, cast members randomly wander and serve as reminders that Francesca is in a small town where everyone knows everything about everyone else.  Special thanks to Mary Callanan (neighbor Marge), Cullen R. Titmas (husband Bud), and Francesca’s kids, Michael and Carolyn (Dave Thomas Brown and Caitlin Houlahan) - who provide memorable moments and occasional solos. Michael Yeargan’s scenic design is effective, with outlines of key elements (including a bridge) rather than tangible set features.  Thus, the beauty of the music - and the vastness and sameness of the Iowa countryside - dominate. Catherine Zuber’s costumes keep the production farm simple; and Donald Holder’s lighting focuses the audience.

 

 

Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky - Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

Last but certainly far from least are composer Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics. The audience is in for a special treat: Brown conducts the orchestra himself. A few of the songs are stand-alone, while the bulk of the musical pieces further the plot. Kudos to the cast for their on-point vocal interpretations - and especially to the two leads who pull every drop of emotion out of each note. Objectively, not much happens during this show. However, emotions run high with spectacular internal lives translated into music.

 

Mary Callanan and David Hess - Photo by Matthew Murphy

 

 

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY runs until January 17, 2016 at the Ahmanson Theatre (Music Center), 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA.  Performances are on Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. There are added performances on Monday, December 21 and 28, 2015 at 8 p.m, Thursday on December 31, 2015 (New Years Eve) at 7 p.m., and Thursday, January 14, 2016 at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $130. For reservations, call 213-972-4400 or go online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

 

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