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BWW CD Reviews: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (Original Broadway Cast Recording) is Gorgeous and Emotive

BWW CD Reviews: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (Original Broadway Cast Recording) is Gorgeous and Emotive
Cover art courtesy of Ghostlight Records.

When it comes to breathtaking, dazzling musical scores Jason Robert Brown is no stranger; therefore, his fans and theatergoers in general hotly anticipated his latest musical THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, which was adapted from Robert James Waller's novel. Broadway previews for the show began on January 17, 2014 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, with the show officially opening on February 20. Unfortunately, the show closed on May 18, but Ghostlight Records released a beautiful recording of the Tony nominated score on May 19, ensuring that this score can be enjoyed for generations to come.

With a book by Marsha Norman, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY starts with Francesca's journey from wartime Naples, Italy to Winterset, Iowa with her American soldier husband, Bud. Together, they build a home and life in rural Iowa. One day, Bud takes their children to the Iowa State Fair in Indianapolis, and Francesca has a chance encounter with Robert, a National Geographic photographer, who has been assigned to photograph the Roseman Bridge. Francesca and Robert get lost in an intimate affair, and Francesca is left to navigate the complications of her romantic life.

With the score, Jason Robert Brown expertly mixes the sounds of Americana with Broadway style composing. The fascinating and catchy songs exist at the crossroads of country pop and Broadway ballad, giving the music a tangibly earthy and pleasantly stirring touch. The music and lyrics he has composed speak directly to the heart, and listeners get easily swept away in the nuance and romance of it all.

When listening to the album there is no denying that Kelli O'Hara earned her Tony nomination for her portrayal of Francesca. She transforms her voice to include a believable Italian accent and sings with such palpable emotionality that we simply cannot help but be moved by her riveting vocals. Opening the album with "To Build a Home," she captures our ears, hearts, minds, and souls with her gorgeous musical expressions. She never disappoints on each successive track, pouring passion and vigor into each number. However, for me, it is her recording of "Almost Real" that skyrockets both her performance and this album into the realm of unforgettable. That one track is worth the full cost of the album on its own.

Stephen Pasquale sings Robert with an assuredness and an air of confidence that allows listeners to visualize everything about him that would steal Francesca's affections. With his striking lyric baritone instrument, his vocalizations on the record are handsome and alluring. Listening to him sing out lyrics like "All my life, I have been falling./ I have been falling into you" and "Whatever fate the stars are weaving,/ We're not breaking,/ I'm not leaving,/ And you and I are just one second./ Spinning by in just one second./ You and I have just one second.../ And a million miles to go," audiences cannot help but swoon and cheer for Francesca's affair with him.

The remainder of the cast lends their skilled vocals to the album, fleshing out the sumptuously lush musical portraits crafted by Jason Robert Brown. Stand outs on the album include Whitney Bashor's lovely and heartfelt performance of the wistful "Another Life," Hunter Foster's charming reminiscences on "Something From a Dream," Cass Morgan's sultry and sensual "Get Closer," Katie Klaus' lively and energetic performance on "State Road 21," and Michael X. Martin's emotive and soulful performance on "When I'm Gone."

Conducted by Thomas Murray, the musicians play the score with the tenacity and wit of popular country music while blending in the haunting poignancy of Jason Robert Brown's Broadway sensibilities as well. The true star of this group is Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf's plaintive and heartrending Cello performances, which also serve to make this remarkable score and album extraordinary.

Regardless of the outcomes at the 2014 Tony Awards, Ghostlight Records release of Jason Robert Brown's THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (Original Broadway Cast Recording) proves that Jason Robert Brown and Kelli O'Hara are definitely deserving of their nominations and are strong contenders for a win. Furthermore, listening to the album, I find myself surprised that this musical didn't garner more Tony nominations than it did.

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (Original Broadway Cast Recording) was released digitally by Ghostlight Records on April 15, 2014. Physical copies of the recording were released on May 19, 2014. The record can be purchased from Ghostlight Records, iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.

For information about other theatrical recording releases, click here.

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