THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY at Keegan Theatre
Sometimes a show comes along on Broadway that leaves you saying, "Hmm I wonder what it would be like without the large scale production?" The 2014 Jason Robert Brown/Marsha Norman musical The Bridges of Madison County is one of those shows. It had a large production concept that I felt swallowed the small story it was trying to tell. Mind you Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale gave incredible performances as the two leads and Jason Robert Brown rightfully deserved his two Tony Awards for Best Score and Orchestrations after the show had already closed.
DC's Keegan Theatre's venue is way more intimate than a Broadway theatre is so it is the perfect venue to let the score and the characters take wing under Kurt Boehm's expert and well-paced direction.
Francesca (Susan Derry) was born in Italy, but now lives on a farm in Iowa with her American husband Bud (Chad Wheeler) and their two kids, Carolyn (Lily Warner) and Michael (Carson Collins). Carolyn's steer Stevie is about to be entered into the county fair. Bud and the kids are the only ones attending the fair because Francesca feels she has to stay behind and tend to the farm. While the family is away, Robert (Dan Felton), a photographer from National Geographic, pulls into Francesca's driveway looking for directions to one of the Madison County's famous bridges to photograph. The chance encounter between Robert and Francesca leads to a relationship that heats up pretty quickly and eventually becomes a full blown affair. Even with her nosey neighbor Marge (Kathy Fuller) always trying to butt in and Marge's husband Charlie (Paul Tonden) telling his wife to mind her own business, the affair continues literally right up until Francesca's family returns from the fair. In case you're wondering, Carolyn's steer wins best in show.
Performance wise, the cast is uniformly strong.
It did take me a little while to get use to Susan Derry's more classical sounding singing voice as Francesca, but I must say she had me by the time she got to songs like "Almost Real" and "What Do You Call a Man Like That." Acting wise, this might be the role of Derry's career.
Because Derry either is or just reads older (not sure which) than Kelli O'Hara did on Broadway, Boehm wisely cast someone that matches her age wise as Robert. Dan Felton's incredible vocal on "It All Fades Away" was definitely a production highlight. The same can be said for his chemistry with Derry. Their two powerful voices blend nicely on such numbers as "Falling Into You," and you really do see the whole progression of their relationship in their performances.
A big shout out has to go to Kathy Fuller as Marge for providing the show's comic relief. Newcomer Carson Collins also gives a strong performance as the slightly rebellious son Michael. He is definitely one area talent to watch in the future. Lily Warner does a fine job with her characterization of the self-made steer owner Carolyn. Chad Wheeler Bud is the epitome of the type of husband I can't stand and he is ideal in the role. MaryKate Brouillet's performance of "Another Life" is another vocal highlight of the production.
Matthew J. Keenan provides an expertly designed set that features a top level for Francesca's bedroom and a revolving wall to take us from outside into her kitchen. Michael Innocenti's lighting design features a dazzling array of floor patterns and side light. It all adds to the mood that Boehm is creating.
Patrick Lord's projections move us along the Iowa landscape. I do have to say that putting a dowser on the projector probably would help the last image of the show. As it is now, the ending still has the final images in full view after all the lights have gone to black.
Musical director Elisa Rosman is wisely using almost the entire set of Jason Robert Brown's Tony Award-winning orchestrations. Her ensemble has nine players whereas there were ten on Broadway. Please take notice of violinist Matthew Gordon in the act two opening.
I am hoping the glitches in Dan Deiter's sound design are fixed sooner rather than later. There is no excuse for what sounded like an open microphone that people kept hitting for the whole show. I also question the amount of amplification used in general. Keegan Theatre's space really doesn't need much help so over amplifying takes away from the otherwise natural feel of the overall production.
Despite that small rant from this ornery reviewer, I do highly recommend this production. Any show with a score by Jason Robert Brown deserves a visit. Any show featuring a strong cast with excellent direction also deserves your attention. This one has both. Check it out before "It All Fades Away."
Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.
The Bridges of Madison County runs through September 2, 2018 at Keegan Theatre, which is located at 1742 Church St NW, Washington, DC.
For tickets, click here.