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There are some musicals that it's difficult to imagine someone could watch without their heart being touched. Theatre Raleigh's production of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, directed by their Artistic Director Lauren Kennedy Brady, is certainly one of those pieces. Based on the novel of the same name, it's a story of family and isolation, love and romance, and wondering if you were meant for more than the life you're leading. With gorgeous music by Jason Robert Brown, this heart-wrenching show is sure to connect with audiences.

Like the 1995 movie of the same name starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, the musical is based on the popular novel by Robert James Waller. Its fantastic book by Marsha Norman and its music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown are combined seamlessly. It's not hard to see why the musical won the 2014 Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Orchestrations.

The show tells the story of an Italian woman named Francesca Johnson who married an American soldier as her ticket out of World War II era Italy. Many years later, in 1965, she has a few blissful days to herself as her husband, Bud, and two children go to the 1965 State Fair. However, her quiet is interrupted when National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid asks her for directions, sparking an intense connection between the two that causes Francesca to question the life she has built in Iowa. It's a tale of a woman who has "learned to let the longing go" but, through a chance encounter, rediscovers the woman that she once was.

The score shows influences from American folk music and is as emotive as one might expect from a show by Jason Robert Brown. The show also uses its songs creatively, sometimes for flashbacks or to connect Francesca to her family far away. I loved that you could see the very talented string musicians above the main part of the stage throughout the show.

Janine DiVita is a revelation as the spirited but repressed Francesca. She has a beautiful soprano voice and pulls off a very convincing Italian accent. From her lovely opening song "To Build a Home" to her moving solo "Almost Real," the songs suit her voice exceptionally well and she gives a fantastic leading performance.

BWW Review: Theatre Raleigh's THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY DiVita has appropriately great chemistry with Patrick Oliver Jones as Robert. Jones has the perfect kind of charm for the rugged photographer and a wonderful voice. His solo "It All Fades Away" is certainly a highlight of the show. Scott Wakefield is great as Francesca's nice but unsophisticated husband, Bud. His song "Something from a Dream" was cleverly delivered from the audience in a conversational way that made him seem all the more likable.

Heather Setzler and Jason Sharp as the couple next door, Marge and Charlie, are definite highlights of the show. The characters provide comic relief, but their solid relationship also serves as a foil to Francesca and Bud's uninspired one. Setzler certainly stole every scene she was in with her magnetic and upbeat humor.

The younger cast were equally as good with Jack Richardson and Callie Colvard nailing their sibling dynamic as Michael and Carolyn. Each of them have lovely voices and did a great job at building a three-dimensional character with little screen time. Supriya Jaya, playing Marian, Chiara, and other roles, has a fantastic voice and brought a flair to each one of her characters.

The set is a cleverly built two story wooden structure suggesting a farmhouse in middle America, with a lovely small vintage-style kitchen, designed by Rebecca Leigh Johnson. Dorothy Austin-Harrell's costumes are a wonderful blend of Levi jeans, pretty vintage dresses, and button-down shirts that evoke the mid-1960s. The beginning and end of the show feature projections on the stage though I struggled to see them from the second row.

The Bridges of Madison County at Theatre Raleigh is a beautiful musical with a very talented cast, brought beautifully to life by Lauren Kennedy Brady. By the end of the show, there is barely a dry eye in the house. If you've ever fallen in love, if you've ever wondered if your life was meant to go another way, if you've ever had to make a difficult choice, the show is sure to resonate with you. It's playing at the Kennedy Theatre at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts through August 18.

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Robertston

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