BWW Review: Showtunes' BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY Wows with Voices but Not Much Else
I'm usually a sucker for a good sappy romance but I'll admit I missed the bandwagon where "The Bridges of Madison County" was concerned. I never saw the movie or read the book so any kind of name recognition or nostalgic feelings for a musical of this are lost on me and the show would have to exist solely on, "does it tell a good story musically?". The answer to that would be, "no." And while the current concert staging of it from Showtunes includes some outstanding voices, it still doesn't fix a flawed show.
Based on Robert James Waller's novel, the show with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown tells the story of Francesca (Megan Renae Parker), an Italian woman living on a farm in Iowa with her family in the 1960's. Life has become fairly static and routine for her. So, when her husband Bud (Greg McCormick Allen) and her two kids Michael and Carolyn (Tyler Dobies and Bethanie Willis) head off to a 4-H Fair for the week, Francesca sees a moment for some personal time. Enter dashing National Geographic photographer Robert (Randy Scholz) who is photographing all the covered bridges in the area and cannot find the last one on his list. Francesca offers to show him where it is and soon a romance blossoms between the two of them.
First off, the story doesn't quite work for me as Francesca doesn't seem to be in a particularly unhappy or unloving marriage so her decision to have the affair does not come across as sympathetic and Robert is just kind of ... there. But that could have something to do with point number two, that the Act One songs do nothing to convey any kind character or set up any emotional intent or want for the characters so we don't really know them. Instead they just seem to sing about their daily lives and in a musical the characters should sing when speaking just can't contain their emotions and not just to convey the mundane. And nothing really moved the story along but rather paused for effect. Act Two does get better and has a few sweepingly rousing numbers but by then I honestly didn't care about the characters that much and wanted them to just finish the affair or run away together already and stop talking about it.
As I said, they've gathered some incredible singers. Scholz and Parker have voices from the Gods. Both filled with power and emotion, their 11 o'clock number was absolutely stunning. Allen along with Lanny Mitchell as their smart aleck neighbor Charlie too have a great number near the end of the show that really shows off some beautiful pipes and emotion. And Carolyn Magoon and Rachel Krohn (Krohn was filling in at the last minute for the performance I saw) each also had some fun numbers but numbers that didn't really move anything along. But they were fun.
This one is just a miss for me and I question why Showtunes chose it as they say they put on concerts of rarely seen musicals. This one just flopped on Broadway in 2014 and continues to tour so why go for it now? And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Showtunes' production of "The Bridges of Madison County" a perplexed MEH+. Great voices singing a mediocre show.
"The Bridges of Madison County" from Showtunes Theatre Company performs at ACT through November 5th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheater.org or www.showtunestheatre.org.