BWW Review: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY at Oyster Mill
Robert James Waller's novel THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY was successful enough to become a hit movie of the same name. It ran nearly forever, or so it seemed, so loved were Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood in the film. Jason Robert Brown's musical adaptation for Broadway, however, was a matter of "blink and you missed it," so briefly did it run. That's a shame, however; it was recognized with two Tonys for the music (this writer, who's no huge JRB fan, thinks it by far his best work and loves it),
The plot is the same as the movie, without the bookending that marks the movie; the story is told entirely in present moments, never with looking back by others on the heroine, Francesca's, life. It's really more satisfying that way, as it is never nostalgic and surprisingly unsentimental for a romance. Even so, there are points where it's hard to keep a dry eye in the house, thanks to Brown's lush folk and country score. There are moments of pop, moments of opera, in a fascinating mix of musical styles, but for a story of midwestern farm families and their friends, the folk and country feel right at home.
What director Ryan Dean Schoening brings to the table is a spare set that works better than a more detailed one might, and a cast that has everything it needs to bring out a strong production. Particularly nice here is the casting of Oyster Mill veteran Rosie Turner as Francesca, the Italian war bride, against her real-life husband Ian Turner as photographer Robert Kincaid. They're a delight to watch and there's no doubt about the chemistry, nor about their vocal talents. It's nice to see Rosie Turner stretch past her belter mode in her last performance in CURTAINS!, with more songs, and a far wider range. While she's fine at comedy, she can also deliver emotion, particularly in "Almost Real."
Michael Beckstein is perfectly cast as the stolid Bud Johnson, Francesca's husband, who's completely forgotten romance and relationship, but can always be counted on to do the right thing by his family nonetheless. His "Home Before you Know It" and "When I'm Gone" are small musical treasures, the latter a country-rock piece that's worth a sing in the shower any day. Other recommended moments are "Another Life," a singer-songwriter moment by Amanda Viands as Marian, Robert's ex-wife, and "Get Closer," a girl group number starring Bryden McCurdy playing Marge, the nosy but kindly neighbor who keeps Francesca's secrets even while ferreting them out.
The spareness of the set by Schoening and Stephen Jahn is a needed counterpoint to the lushness of the musical composition and the emotion barely held in check in the storyline (which just barely manages, fortunately, to avoid melodrama). It's worth noting that this is a smaller, but not a chamber, musical -- it's the right size for the Oyster Mill stage, and it feels perfectly at home there.
Last performance at Oyster Mill Playhouse, alas, is on the 17th. Following is another one of the things Oyster Mill does perfectly, a drawing room mystery - this time Agatha Christie's THE MOUSETRAP.