BWW Review: Well-Conceived BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY at Lakeland Civic Theatre
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
The capsule judgement of my review of the Broadway production of The Bridges of Madison County stated, ""The Bridges of Madison County" is one of those special, intimate, meaningful, well-conceived and performed shows that deserved a longer shelf-life than it is getting."
The show opened to tepid reviews. Why? It's not "filled with flash, glitter, large production numbers and massive choruses. It is a well-conceived, tender, and low-keyed experience." It is a "little" musical, much in the realm of "She Loves Me." Those qualities are not the elements of which present day Broadway shows are made.
As I predicted, the show closed its Broadway run quickly. Now it is released for hinterlands' productions.
Fortunately for Cleveland area theatre patrons, Lakeland Civic Theater, located on the campus of Lakeland Community College, acquired production rights, and under the adept direction of Martin Friedman, it had a healthy run. (Disclosure: I was out of the country during much of the show's staging and returned just in time to see the last performance, thus this late review.)
The musical is adapted from Robert James Waller's best-selling "The Bridges of Madison County." It, as was the book, is based on Waller's homey belief that "some people experience a special love that happens just once in a lifetime-if you're lucky."
The score, which won the Tony Award, is beautiful. It is filled with tender ballads, country twanging and good old fashioned 1950-60's sentimentality. It would have made Rodgers and Hammerstein proud.
The story, which some will think is way too Harlequin romance novel sentimental, centers on Francesca Johnson (Trinidad Snider), an Italian who was brought to Iowa after World War II by nice guy, low-keyed "Bud" Johnson (Scott Esposito). She leads a quiet life on a desolate farm with one close neighbor, Marge (Amiee Collier) with whom she can share her homesickness for Italy, and discuss issues of her marriage and children, Michael (Frank Ivancic) and Carolyn (Anna Barrett).
It's 1965, and into Francesca's life comes Robert Kincaid (Shane Patrick O'Neill), a "National Geographic" photographer, who has come to take pictures of the famed covered bridges of Madison county. He stops for directions to find a bridge he can't locate, Francesca's family is at the state fair, they quickly fill a need in each other, a love affair results and he offers to take her away from her "unfulfilled" life.
It's a tender tale of infidelity, love, unfulfilled experiences, and then the inevitable need to make a pivotal decision that will not only affect the lives of Francesca and Robert, but her family.
Friedman's direction is spot on. The show is well-paced, the human interactions real, and the overall effect is emotionally wrenching. (The woman sitting next to me sobbingly used two packets of Kleenex during the closing scenes.)
The cement of this production is the totally convincing relationship developed by Snider and O'Neill. Every touch, kiss, and extended eye contact screamed, "this is real love." Very seldom do you see such real interconnectedness on stage. Bravo!
Jordan Cooper's musical direction, Trad A Burns set design, and Tesia Benson's lighting design were all well-conceived and helped make this a special production.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: It may be cliché and overly dramatic, but The Bridges of Madison County makes for a fine evening of theatre. The Lakeland production was stellar. Applause, applause, applause!
The Bridges of Madison County ran from February 2-19 at the Lakeland Civic Theatre located on the campus of Lakeland Community College.