Based on the popular novel by Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County is reminiscent of a show of similar tone, The Light in the Pizza. This new show has the same director (Bartlett Sher), set designer (Michael Yeargan) and star (Kelli O’Hara). This show also has the string heavy small arrangement in the pit that gives beauty to the whole thing in a way that isn’t heard too often on Broadway. The show is romantic, melodic and features dynamo performances by O’Hara and her co-star Steven Pasquale. However, the score by Jason Robert Brown is an ocean of ballads and pretty as they are, the score could stand to have more variety. There are a few peppy surprises such as an opening second half country western ditty called “State Road 21” and a rare sense of humor in (another ballad) the neighbor as radio singer doing “Get Closer” by a fine Cass Morgan.
Ms. Morgan is welcome as a chipper busy-body with a good heart, spying on the ill fated romance of Francesca and Robert (O’Hara and Pasquale). Book writer Marsha Norman earned her paycheck with this character. Hunter Foster plays the farmer husband Bud and his talents are greatly wasted here. Any good actor of the right age from the New York acting pool could have done it and Mr. Foster comes in, does a good professional job and then gets off stage to let O’Hara and Pasquale own the spotlight. It isn’t that Mr. Foster is mis-cast, it’s just that his particular talents are not being mined and it is hoped that a new show comes along next season to steal him out of the mundane tasks he endures now at the Schoenfeld theatre.
As the teenaged children, Caitlin Kinnunen strikes just the right note while Derek Klena as a 16 year old is clearly a decade too old for the role. We know Mr. Klena from his break out performance in Dogfight and he has a stellar voice, but here he is not only mis-cast as a teenager, his voice is barely used. Again, a wasted talent, though he must me thrilled for the opportunity to be back on Broadway. The rest of the ensemble all have nice turns in small solos that help to give variety to a show that barely manages to leave its legato envelopment.
Bartlett Sher has the ensemble pushing scenery around to bring Broadway back to the reality that it is theatre and not a movie. There is occasionally an automated set piece that disrupts the unity of Sher’s concept, but it is nice to let the audience fill in the blanks with their imagination. The show does ask the audience to participate in a way that the spectacles don’t and it defines this production as its own unique world.
The final assessment is that this treacly romance is lovely, even if there are elements that flatten the dynamics and if wonderful talents are not completely used. For tickets and more information go to http://bridgesofmadisoncountymusical.com.