When someone reviews a book or a play I’ve written, it always fascinates me when they write the review based on what THEY would have written. Warning: I can’t stop myself from thinking in those terms when watching the new musical The Bridges of Madison County playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway. I will admit to not having read the novel by Robert James Waller nor have I ever really watched the film adaptation with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. So I did not walk in with expectations of what I’d see on stage.
What I did see was a beautiful operetta of a single moment in time, captured in the heart and minds of Francesca – a middle-aged mother and wife that has grown weary of her life and a handsome stranger passing through town as he photographs landmarks for The National Geographic. The performances of Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale are far and above what I witnessed the two of them do together last year in Far From Heaven. They smolder, they glisten, they are two souls brought together by fate that can’t deny a certain passion. They sing amazing soaring songs written by the always incredible Jason Robert Brown and say funny dialogue to each other penned by Marsha Norman (who also adapted The Color Purple for stage).
I love their duets and solos and would listen to them sing those over and over. I totally can buy into the reasoning of the creative team for casting the leads as younger people who still have that opportunity in life to choose a different path. I can even forgive them for (God forbid) making us stare at two beautiful people on stage all night long. This “love” story (if we can call it that) makes for an amazing chamber piece of theater. I’d prefer to believe it’s not really love – it’s a power neither can deny – but being jaded, I’m not sure I’d leap to the word love so quickly. But this operetta is exquisite.
Then there is a completely different musical going on at the Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre at the same time. You see (and this is where I gave my warning above), the creative team have also written an old-fashioned musical comedy where Gladys Kravitz sits with binoculars and watches the young lovers from her window. I LOVE me some Cass Morgan in a show, but the comedy of Marge and her husband completely removed me from the heart of this story. We also get Francesca’s family: two adult actors playing her teenagers which only points out how young Kelli O’Hara actually is. Hunter Foster is a Broadway name that I personally have enjoyed on stage time and again, but here he is saddled with an underdeveloped character of the husband – unsure if we’re to like him or wish that Francesca would leave him and run away with the photographer Robert.
Bartlett Sher has made a huge name for himself as a director with a vision. That vision was muddled in this production with extra cast members endlessly moving sets back and forth, walking and stopping midway across the stage and always watching the main action – as if to show us what a small town this really is in Iowa where everyone knows everything about each other (or perhaps to remind the audience to pay attention to the main story happening on stage and try to forget these extraneous characters have been dropped into this ½ opera ½ musical comedy).
Anyone that reads my reviews know I’m not usually so harsh. I strongly feel there was a
missed opportunity with this show. There are truly
moments of greatness that have been bogged down with an unclear focus. I would
have much preferred a two person musical that did not feel the need to give us
three false endings to show us where the story kept going and going. The story should
be about our lovers lost in a moment in time one weekend. As Robert points out
to Francesca when giving photography advice, he says you must zoom in to
capture the moment. If only the creative team would have listened to Robert’s
|Streep & Eastwood 1995|