BWW Review: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY Is Another Win for Theater West End in Sanford
I can't tell you how excited I am about Theater West End.
The new Sanford, FL theater opened its doors in September with The Color Purple, earning rave reviews (including mine) for its killer cast, not to mention production quality that far exceeded any reasonable expectation for a tiny upstart on the distant outskirts of Orlando.
It was so good, in fact, that the theater extended the show's run and still sold out every night.
Now Theater West End is back with its second show proper, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, and it's proof that Purple wasn't a flash in the pan.
If the thing you love about musical theatre is its ability to express a character's emotions and inner struggles in song, BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is the show for you.
You might know about those struggles if you've seen the 1995 motion picture starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. Both the movie and the musical are adapted from a 1992 novella of the same name, the story of a lonely Italian-American housewife in the 1960s and the National Geographic photographer who happens upon her house while her husband and children are out of town.
The encounter awakens something inside her, and if you're in the audience, it wrecks you too.
On some level, she loves both men. They both love her. You've seen this scenario before, but it plays out so humanly and effortlessly in BRIDGES that the story feels like its own.
Janine Klein is incredibly compelling as Francesca, from the Italian accent she masters to the facial expressions and little hand gestures that convey as much feeling as her words, which come from a beautiful voice.
She's supported by strong performances from Michael Colavolpe as Bud (the husband) and Robb Ross as Robert (the new flame).
Theater West End has a scene stealer too: Sara Jones as Marge, the hilariously nosy neighbor. The cast also features Andrew Johnson, Tricia Jane Wiles, Michael Thibodeau, Monica Titus, and Beki Herrbach. The ensemble includes Kasea Seabrook and Michael Cerasoli.
Not every song in this show would soar absent the context of story. And while there are strong singers in the cast, as an ensemble, harmonies occasionally go awry.
Still, there is fine musicianship on display. One of BRIDGES' two Tony wins was for Best Original Score, thanks in part to its memorable cello. It goes without saying that Theater West End's production does not boast the full orchestra of a Broadway run or national tour. Yet, impressively, aside from that cello, I never felt anything was missing. That's undoubtedly due to the musical direction of David Foust (doubling as keyboardist) and Mitchell Samuelson (on piano), as well as the band's five other players (two violins, bass, guitar, and percussion).
In my review of The Color Purple, I noted that Theater West End had some sound design issues to sort through. I'm pleased to report those were largely cured for BRIDGES, though at an early performance, the band did still occasionally overpower the vocalists (a challenge somewhat inherent in the space).
Director Derek Critzer, who also serves as co-producer and in a slew of other backstage and creative roles, has once again brought craftsmanship to this theater, which is so clearly the product of passion - his and that of his co-founder, Quinn Roberts. I was particularly impressed with Critzer's set pieces, which are minimalist and artful.
BRIDGES premiered on Broadway in February 2014 but never quite caught on, closing not even three months after its premiere. But a well-received cast recording, the two Tony wins, and a national tour have helped it gain a following. Now, it falls to local theatre to make it accessible. Thanks to Theater West End, Central Florida has a chance to see a solid production of a show that never got the credit it deserved.
If you're reading this in Sanford and still haven't paid this new venue a visit, I urge you to celebrate the arrival of such terrific talent downtown. If you're elsewhere in Orlando and weary of the long drive, let me assure you: I live a full hour from Theater West End and already can't wait to make the next trek out there. They're doing great work, and it's well worth your time.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY runs through November 18, 2018. To purchase tickets, visit the Theater West End website or call 407-548-6285.
What did you think of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY at Theater West End? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.
Photo Credit: Theater West End