Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Theater Review: The Brides of Madison County The Musical National Tour

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:36


Before I begin this review, let me preface it by revealing just how much I LOVED the original Broadway production of The Bridges of Madison County, the lush, lavish, and gorgeous musical that starred Steven Pasquale and Kelli O’Hara that heartbreakingly failed to gather enough traction to become the mega-hit it should’ve become. Musical genius Jason Robert Brown won the Tony Award for his score for Bridges; and both of its lead stars were Tony nominated for their performances (O’Hara would later go on to win for The King & I). When I heard the show was closing in NY back in May of 2014, I booked a flight to the final performance and sat in the theater in complete disbelief that this amazingly crafted and truly touching show was closing after such a short run. Of course, material that good can’t stay on the shelf forever; and a national tour was launched in the end of 2015.

In a nutshell, this tour has A LOT to live up to in-terms of its original Broadway predecessor; and I don’t envy the tall order the touring leads, Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca Johnson) and Andrew Samonsky (Robert Kincaid), must follow. And while no, their performances don’t eclipse the originals, they come awfully darn close. In fact, this entire production of Bridges comes awfully close! Creative decisions were wisely placed in the hands of almost all of the original members of the Broadway creative team. Bartlett Sher’s fantastic direction is mimicked perfectly by Tyne Rafaeli. Thus, what translates to the tour is essentially a carbon copy of what graced the stage of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. The set pieces, background scenery, and props are duplicated, as is the stage movement of the cast throughout the show.

Bridges isn’t Wicked; there aren’t elaborate set pieces and special effects to distract the audience from the core of the story. Instead, the production must rely an that absolutely gorgeous score and orchestrations and performances from the actors to succeed. Luckily, this production does so on every level. The leads knock it out of the park! And the supportive cast is so strong that the story (authored by novelist Robert James Waller) shines so brightly that the true beauty of this show comes through. Elizabeth Stanley’s unique portrayal of Francesca is punctuated by her remarkable vocals; and while Andrew Samonsky’s vocals aren’t quite as rich or deep as Pasquale’s, he more than nails the part and brings the true love his character has for Francesca to life.

The supporting leads, played by David Hess and Mary Callanan (the married neighbors who share a close bond with the Johnson family) and Cullen R. Titmas (Bud, Francesca’s lovable husband) are incredibly strong. “Get Closer” is Callanan’s solo in the first act and allows her talent to be put on display front and center (as does the equally incredible Katie Claus’ first act solo “Another Life”). The second act’s “When I’m Gone,” serving as a transition of time in the story, sung by Titmas and Hess, sent chills down my spine. The accent Hess puts on his execution of several of the lyrics conveys the emotion and strength of the number, and the power it has in helping to conclude the story.  “Before and After You/ One Second and a Million Miles” remains the showstopper number. Stanley and Samonsky perform the number beautifully with a perfect show of dynamics and tone control. The song is so incredibly moving. Its orchestrations feel almost immersive; the audience feels the same love and turmoil in their hearts as the characters on stage, thanks to the deeply lush combination of piano and strings Brown combined to chilling effect.

In conclusion, there are really not enough positive adjectives to describe this touring production of Bridges. The acting, singing, and entire production closely rivals the quality of the original Broadway production. The show had such a short life in NY, odds are you probably missed it. If you miss the show now, you’ve only got yourself to blame. The show is touring across the US. It’s worth taking the time needed to dedicate yourself to seeing this show. If the show isn’t making a stop in your town, then pop on its Web site and plan to a trip out of it! You’ll be very grateful you did! Tour dates and tickets are available here: http://bridgesmusical.com/tickets/. Below, take a look at footage from the recording of the Bridges soundtrack, featuring the original Broadway leads Kelly O’Hara and Steven Pasquale:

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