Thursday, February 18, 2016

theatre review - THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY - National Tour: ASU Gammage - February 16, 2016

Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky
photo: Matthew Murphy
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 21st.

"Composer Jason Robert Brown has won two Tony Awards for his musical scores yet none of his shows has had a Broadway run of longer than a few months. It's unfortunate, as Brown's music and lyrics are almost always exceptional. Last season he won two Tony Awards for his score and orchestrations for the musical The Bridges of Madison County. While that show only ran for three months in New York, a national tour of the show launched this past November and comes to Tempe for a week long run. Brown's score is lush and romantic and, even though the musical is long, somewhat repetitive, and slow going in parts, the touring cast is exceptional. Based on the bestselling novel by Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County is set in 1965 Iowa and focuses on the four-day affair between a lost and lonely Italian war bride whose family is away on a trip and the equally lost National Geographic photographer who comes to town to photograph the covered bridges in the area. ...Marsha Norman's book for the show follows the plot of Waller's novel fairly closely and she instills her dialogue with a freshness and a perfect Midwest America sensibility. Brown's score is sensational, featuring a combination of operatic soaring songs along with bluegrass and country flavors. However, it is a ballad heavy score so there are several similar sounding songs as well as a few for the supporting characters that slow the plot down. With a running time of over two and a half hours it could be tightened, with some of the songs cut or trimmed, and have an even more lasting impact. The cast for the national tour is excellent. Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky are Francesca and Robert and both have superb voices that bring an emotional connection to Brown's succinct lyrics. Both characters are similar—lost in their current lives and looking for something but unsure what it is—and the connection they have for each other is immediate and the heat they generate is palpable...The staging for the dramatic scenes and the movement work very well together to tell the story and move the plot along. Especially effective is how the ensemble is used to not only move the various set pieces around as the scenes change but also in how at many times they are on the sides and at the back of the stage, seated, while the more dramatic moments unfold. These elements add a theatricality to the piece while also giving the sense that the people surrounding Francesca's life in Iowa are always present, so her responsibilities are always felt. The ensemble also adds a soaring choral voice to several of the musical numbers. The creative elements, all of which are modeled on the Broadway designs, are excellent. ... While this musical isn't perfect, the end result still evokes a deep feeling of romance with two interesting and intriguing characters and a cast who is able to do justice to Brown's music."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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