Review Roundup: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
The Bridges of Madison County, the new musical based on the best selling novel by Robert James Waller, opens tonight, February 20, 2014, at 8:00 PM at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (236 West 45th Street).
Four-time Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara reunites with Bartlett Sher, the Tony-winning director of South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza, for a stunning new musical by the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning team of Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown. O'Hara is joined onstage by Steven Pasquale ("Rescue Me", reasons to be pretty).
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: I am happy to say that Ms. O'Hara more than keeps the promises made by her interpretation of that first song, one of many sumptuous pieces that feel as if they had been written specifically for her by the show's composer, Jason Robert Brown. She also confirms her position as one of the most exquisitely expressive stars in musical theater. Her Francesca, a questioning farmer's wife who briefly discovers a love with all the answers, brings a rich and varied topography to what might have been strictly flat corn country. True, the rest of the show, directed by Bartlett Sher with a script by Marsha Norman, isn't nearly as multidimensional. Though Ms. O'Hara has a lust-worthy leading man in Steven Pasquale, most of what surrounds her has the depth of a shiny picture postcard, one that bears a disproportionately long and repetitive message. Still, when you have a central performance as sensitive, probing and operatically rich and lustrous as Ms. O'Hara's, you won't find me kvetching too loudly...
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The Iowa featured in the new musical "The Bridges of Madison County" is flat indeed but, oh boy, the voices soar. Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale come just short of blowing the roof off the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in this touching doomed romance that features a superb, thrilling score by Jason Robert Brown. Brown, the talented composer behind "13," ''The Last Five Years" and "Parade," has never had a real New York hit. This should be it.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: [O'Hara's] openhearted performance is as believably acted and immaculately sung as anything she's ever done...She's so fine, in fact, that she casts a shadow over Mr. Pasquale, an excellent singer who lacks the redeeming touch of mystery that Mr. Eastwood brought to the too-good-to-be-true role of Robert, the photographer (and who is a decade too young for the part)...Up to a point, Mr. Brown's warm, expansive score is an equally strong selling point for "Bridges." Parts of it are as musically exciting as anything heard on Broadway since Stephen Sondheim's glory days...But Mr. Brown is rather better at writing scenes than songs, and except for "Another Life," a sweetly folk-flavored ballad sung in a flashback by Robert's ex-wife (Whitney Bashor), none of the songs in "The Bridges of Madison County" has a clear-cut, boldly shaped melodic profile-or, for that matter, a truly memorable lyric.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Everybody knows that playwrights shouldn't direct their own plays. But composers might also think twice about doing their own orchestrations. In an intimate house, Jason Robert Brown's lushly melodic score for "The Bridges of Madison County" would seem a proper fit for Marsha Norman's book, which is gushy but more literate than Robert James Waller's mawkish 1992 novella about soulful lovers in a hopeless adulterous affair. But although Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale are in glorious voice as this passionate pair, the bombastic orchestrations and Bartlett Sher's overstated helming inflate the production into some quasi-operatic beast that thinks it's "Aida."
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: One of the works that put Jason Robert Brown on the map is The Last Five Years, a 2001 two-character chamber musical that deconstructs in microscopic detail the entirety of a relationship, from first encounter through marriage to breakup. A variation on that theme, this time chronicling just four whirlwind days of intense passion, is trapped inside the composer-lyricist's cluttered stage retelling of The Bridges of Madison County. Fussy direction and design choices and cumbersome book scenes crowd the central couple, but the gorgeous voices and thoughtful characterizations of Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale in those roles help counter the weaknesses of this problematic romantic musical.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: ...Pasquale's performance, which is technically impressive and shows at least flickers of nuance. As the cliches pile up, you feel for him, and for O'Hara, and their director, Bartlett Sher, whose credits include some of the most compelling stagings of American classics in recent years (including the 2008 revival of South Pacific in which O'Hara memorably starred). They are burdened, after all, not only with the sentimentality of Bridges' premise, but with supporting contrivances such as Francesca's dull, inexplicably suspicious husband, called Bud, and a nosy but goodhearted neighbor, Marge, who uses binoculars to peer into Francesca's home. (Marge and Bud are respectively, and gamely, played by Cass Morgan and Hunter Foster.)
Linda Winer, Newsday: "The Bridges of Madison County" is a ravishingly beautiful musical play based on the phenomenally popular 1992 weeper about a four-day love affair between an Iowa farm wife from Italy and a worldly photographer. In other words, this is unblushing Harlequin Romance-style material bound in top-quality leather. So many intelligent, gifted artists are involved in this adaptation that we wish the objective were deeper than a high-toned bodice ripper with comic-relief detours into conventional Broadway. But Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale, magnificently magnetic as Francesca and Robert, make the ripping feel like real heartbreak. And director Bartlett Sher and his creative team from "South Pacific" are storytellers who understand the luscious power of simplicity.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: The engaging new musical "The Bridges of Madison County," now open at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, left me wondering two things. First: Can Kelli O'Hara do anything? And second: Are we so starved for affection we're willing to give over our hearts to a story that is - sorry, folks! - utterly preposterous? Even after swooning over the book? And sighing over the movie? The answers: Indeed, Kelli O'Hara can do anything, darn near perfectly, including transform herself into a chestnut-haired Italian beauty who, for the better part of two decades, has assumed the role of an Iowa housewife. And, apparently ... yes. We are suckers for a good love story, no matter the form, and even when it's likely we recall the outcome.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Bartlett Sher's production, which opened Thursday night, is merely a mixed bag, one in which cringe-inducing bits alternate with moments of musical-theater nirvana. Despite the trepidation around her casting, all of the grace notes have to do with O'Hara. Not only does she deliver a finely tuned performance, but she also inspired composer Jason Robert Brown ("The Last Five Years") to new heights. He tailored her character's numbers to his star's range and sensibility, and her songs, like "What Do You Call a Man?" and "Almost Real," have a heartbreaking beauty.
Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: My eyes rolled a bit, I must confess, at the prospect of a Broadway musical based on Robert James Waller's sentimental 1992 bestseller,The Bridges of Madison County (which also inspired a 1995 film with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood). But I must also admit that those same jaded eyes, by the end of the show, had misted up more than once; and judging from the waves of muffled sniffles around me, this was not an uncommon response. Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown's adaptation earns those tears. The musical's emotion is unapologetically grand, and its love story has a wide, old-fashioned scope. Directed with spare precision by Bartlett Sher-reunited with his most of his South Pacific design team-it's a new work that plays like a classic.
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: It helps that Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years) has written a lush and deeply romantic score, filled with rich and melodic duets that show off its leads' terrific voices - their second act rafter-shaker ''One Second & a Million Miles'' is destined to become a cabaret staple. The tunes help compensate for Marsha Norman's more problematic book, which stumbles whenever the spotlight isn't on Francesca and Robert. The story has no real villains, or even antagonists, to work up a plot worth sustaining for 2 hours and 45 minutes...Director Bartlett Sher does his best to fill the space in the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Ultimately, this is a chamber musical that is both introspective and modest at its core. But when O'Hara lets her guard down and opens herself up to the possibility of romance, and when her magnificent soprano belts out Brown's swooping melodies, even a small space can seem as wide and expansive as an Iowa cornfield. B+
Jesse Green, Vulture: The Bridges of Madison County, though based on an insipid novel, is a very serious musical indeed, both rapturous and moral, with a gorgeous score by Jason Robert Brown. It is also one of the few recent Broadway shows to take up the challenge laid down by the great midcentury works of R&H and their cohort: to tell stories that weld important sociological upheavals to personal conflicts and somehow make them sing...the leading performances, shaped by Sher to preserve a sense of character modesty within the vocal extravagance, are exemplary. Kelli O'Hara, who plays Francesca, is never better than when working from loss and confusion; her prettiness has always contained more than a hint of hurt, which gives her voice its richest colors...And barihunk Steven Pasquale, as Robert, who starred opposite O'Hara in Far From Heaven off Broadway last spring...at last gets a chance to be heard singing on Broadway. He was worth the wait.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Despite some beautiful music from Jason Robert Brown and exquisite singing from Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale, "Bridges," which is directed by Bartlett Sher, is a curiously somber and remote musical. These problems are caused partly by a Marsha Norman book that captures much but misses the movie's smoldering passions, and to no small extent by the tendency of both these stars to remain very much in their own worlds and to play the end of their affaire de coeur right from the start.
Peter Marks, The Washington Post: As it is, the tale of a desolate Neapolitan immigrant - distracted from her cold Iowa marriage by a hunky visiting magazine photographer - comes across as rather shaky scaffolding, in a sometimes affecting adaptation of Robert James Waller's best-selling novel that opened Thursday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre...But the bony narrative does acquire rewarding flesh whenever O'Hara - veteran of "The Pajama Game," "South Pacific" and "The Light in the Piazza" - is given a chance to express, in a poignant lyric or hushed speech, the sensual awakening her Francesca Johnson experiences in the presence of the picture-taker, played by the smoldering Steven Pasquale.
Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: Wisely, composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown, book writer Marsha Norman and director Bartlett Sher attempt to mitigate the book's high-flown verbiage and fantastical air...They work well enough together, but in attempting to moderate the novel's silliness, they've shorn the material of some of its import. Brown favours simple, string-heavy compositions that soar only intermittently and feature a puzzling lack of duets...O'Hara is as sumptuously voiced as ever and dazzles in the biographical number Almost Real. Pasquale is implausibly hunky and an able, emotive singer himself. Unfortunately, they seem more like best pals than fervid lovers, the companionable vibe enhanced by chaste choreography that suggests that sex is best achieved with jeans zipped and buttoned.
Steven Suskin, The Huffington Post: Here we have a musical which in its finest moments offers the sort of robustly romantic Broadway-style singing--and writing--that brings to mind such treasures as Carousel and The Most Happy Fella. Those shows, when mounted properly, offer emotional peaks and climaxes so effective that there's not a dry eye in the house. In Bridges of Madison County, when romance goes asunder and the sympathetic lovers are forced apart, we sit there stonefaced, with nary a wet eye in the house. At least, not where I was sitting. You enjoy the wonderful performances and the numerous soaring ballads, frustrated that this exceptional work isn't contained in a more workable musical.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: The equilibrium and mood return when the lovers are center stage. The Irish O'Hara evokes Naples with a dark wig and a convincing Italian accent. She gives a performance of rare and radiant grace. Pasquale, who starred with O'Hara last year Off-Broadway in the misfire "Far From Heaven," has the rugged good looks made for the part. He matches her moment by moment with his virile vocals.Like the story's brief but enduring romance, "Bridges of Madison County" and its blissfully beautiful score and shimmering star turns stay with you well after the last lovely notes fade.
Matt Windman, amNY: As devised by its creators, this slow, static and quiet adaptation of Robert James Waller's bestselling romance novel, which was previously adapted into a hit film with no less than Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, is a snooze and a misfire. It revolves around an unexpected tryst between Francesca, the Italian war bride, and Robert, a magazine photographer visiting her small town in 1960s Iowa for just a few days.
Roma Torre, NY1: It's very well cast. Hunter Foster, as the decent but culturally limited husband, is a strong presence. But of course, it's all about the lovers. Stephen Pasquale is excellent. As a charming, troubled soul, he sings with the kind of power and conviction that leaves no doubt a new star is born. And the stunningly gifted Kelli O'Hara should win her fifth Tony nomination with this role, the most finely tuned of her illustrious career, and she sings her heart out. Yes, it's a soap opera, but an irresistible one; and if you're in the right mood, expect to be utterly smitten.
Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: "The Bridges of Madison County" had only one path to artistic success: Its two lovers had to gain the empathy - a tear, a lump in the throat - of the audience. Mission, I would definitely say, accomplished.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus