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The Bridges of Madison County

a Musical
by Marsha Norman (book) & Jason Robert Brown (songs)

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 5045

SHOWING : March 09, 2017 - April 16, 2017



One of the most romantic stories ever written is now an irresistible, two-time Tony Award-winning musical. Based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY tells the story of Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson and her life-changing, four-day whirlwind romance with traveling photographer Robert Kincaid. It’s an unforgettable story of two people caught between decision and desire, as a chance encounter becomes a second chance at so much more.

Director Justin Anderson
Paolo/Ensemble Blake Burgess
Carolyn Hannah Church
Charlie Rob Cleveland
State Fair Singer/Ensemble Jimmica Collins
Michael Benjamin Davis
Ensemble Elliott Folds
Bud Johnson Matt Lewis
Francesca Johnson Kristin Markiton
Ensemble Robby Owenby
Marge Valerie Payton
Marian/Chiara Rhyn Saver
Robert Kincaid Travis Smith
Ensemble Abi Sneathen
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Superb Singing
by playgoer
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
"The Bridges of Madison County" was an immensely popular book, a less popular movie, and an even less successful Broadway musical. That’s not to say that the quality of the work suffered in each iteration. The book was hastily written, while the movie adaptation starred the meticulously prepared Meryl Streep. And the musical features a lush, romantic score by Jason Robert Brown.

At the Aurora Theatre, the action takes place on a stage whose main set pieces are made of conjoined window and door frames. There’s a fixed house-shaped piece in the background and two sections on wheels that can pivot to form walls and a bridge. Kitchen and bedroom units roll on as needed, as do fence sections to suggest a state fair. Before the start of the show, clotheslines hold fluttering sheets and curtains behind a rolling frame containing strings of photos. Set designer Julie Allardice Ray probably thought the fluttering of the curtains was a nice, outdoorsy touch, but the draft on the necks of audience members is anything but welcome on a chilly day. I also heard an audience member behind me comment that the pivoting of the wheeled sections in Angie Harris’s so-called "choreography" was "distracting," and I can’t disagree. Rocky horizon lines on the side flats and in the background do not evoke Iowa in the least. The set is a disappointment.

On the other side of things, Kevin Frazier’s lighting design is ravishing. There are a lot of sunset colors on display, and they enhance the dreamy, romantic atmosphere of the script. The effects are always subtle and spot-on.

Daniel Pope’s sound design, on the other hand, positions itself for failure. The sound mix is fine (but LOUD) when microphones are turned on, but there were several instances at the performance I attended when mics were turned on late, causing actors’ initial words to disappear into the ether. The band’s performance under the musical direction of Ann-Carol Pence is up to the usual high standards of the theatre, although I think I did detect one isolated clunker note on the piano.

Costumes, designed by Linda Patterson, and props, designed by Suzanne Cooper Morris, do a good job of setting the scene in 1965 Iowa. The character of Robert Kincaid (Travis Smith) is described as a hippie, though, and his hair and costume look too reminiscent of the current day to make that description ring true. One small costuming choice could have made a big difference.

Acting is good across the board, although the apprentice company ensemble members don’t make much of an impression. But, oh!, what an impression Kristin Markiton makes in the central role of Francesca Johnson. Her look and her accent (dialect coaching by Marianne Fraulo) smack of authentic Italian, and her voice is simply gorgeous. When it blends with that of Mr. Smith, the effect is glorious. And the acting is the equal of the voices.

Powerful singing also comes from Matt Lewis as Francesca’s husband and from Rob Cleveland and Valerie Payton as a neighbor couple. Rhyn Mclemore Saver’s voice and dancing skills also impress. All roles are filled capably.

Justin Anderson has directed a show that translates the romance of the late Robert James Waller’s novel into palpable form on the stage. It’s not to everyone’s taste (I heard that lady behind me describe the score as "too operatic"), but the sincerity of the performances and the beauty of the singing must be appreciated. Jason Robert Brown’s score for "The Bridges of Madison County" can be considered a masterpiece, and Aurora is doing it justice. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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