The setting is rural Iowa in 1965 Iowa. Francesca has lived there for nearly 20 years, after marrying an American soldier as a way to escape her hometown of Naples, Italy after the destruction of WWII. She's built a good life for herself and her family, which includes two children, but something is missing. Which is where "hippie" photographer Robert Kincaid comes in. She meets him while her family is away showing the prize steer, and they embark on a whirlwind romance that is doomed from the start. But as they say, "just because something ends doesn't mean it wasn't successful.*" The musical adaptation adds a few layers to the story from the novel and the movie, telling us more about the town and Francesca's family, but this brief but life-changing love story is still the heart of the piece.
Now that the obligatory plot summary is out of the way, let's talk about this luscious music. Jason Robert Brown won the Tony not just for the score but also the orchestrations, and deservedly so. He seamlessly combines several musical styles, including the Italian sound of Francesca's homeland, folk/country tunes fitting to the rural farm setting, and sweeping love ballads. The melody lines are surprising, the harmonies lush, the orchestration ranges from a few stirring a capella lines to a simple cello opening the show to the full orchestra with guitars and strings, and the music and lyrics really show you who these people are. In a word, the score is flawless. And it's helplessly, hopelessly romantic. In a note from Mr. Brown, he says "I felt myself sometimes butting up against the corny, the cheesy, the sentimental, but I decided in those moments to push harder through it, not to be cynical about love or family but to sing about them with ecstatic truth." Mission accomplished. The Bridges of Madison County is essentially a fairy tale for adults, and Mr. Brown's music and lyrics almost make me believe in fairy tales.
|Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky as|
Francesca and Robert (photo by Matthew Murphy)
|sunset at the bridge (photo by Matthew Murphy)|
The Bridges of Madison County continues through June 26 (a few discount tickets remain on Goldstar).
*"Just because something ends doesn't mean it wasn't successful" is a quote from playwright Philip Dawkins' one-act play Failure: A Love Story. Go see his fantastic new play Le Switch at the Jungle for another sweeping romance!