On Its Way to Being a Hit: “The Bridges of Madison County” at WIlliamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Larry Murray
The Bridges of Madison County has all the ingredients to make it a big hit on Broadway, but the show itself, now playing at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires of Massachusetts is not quite there yet. It’s too long, and does not have a show-stopper song, something many consider essential to a real hit. The production is directed by Bartlett Sher (Tony-winner for the recent revival of South Pacific). Kelli O’Hara – who is currently expecting her second child – will assume the lead role of Francesca (played in Williamstown by Elena Shaddow) for the Broadway transfer.
The new musical has a lush and romantic score by Tony-award winner Jason Robert Brown and a book by Marsha Norman whose Pulitzer-winning ‘night, Mother shows she knows her way around families and human emotions. Bridges has lots of them, especially during the final 30 minutes which are so sob-inducing there should be a couple of Kleenex tucked into each program.
Brown is among a small number of serious new musical composers who create scores that are beautiful to hear rather than simply strident and bombastic, a trend infesting many new musicals. Nice melodies and gorgeous arrangements, it’s an approach that I endorse, and it seems to be evolving nicely as Bridges clearly demonstrates. One identifying feature is that its songs actually require some real singing. In fact, it has to be of near-classical proportions (think Adam Guettel and Light in the Piazza) by actors who portray their characters as solidly as they hit their notes.