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Theater Review: 'The Bridges Of Madison County' On Broadway

Katie Buenneke |
May 14, 2014 | 9:02 a.m. PDT

Theater Editor

Steven Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara shine in "The Bridges of Madison County." Photo by Joan Marcus.
Steven Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara shine in "The Bridges of Madison County." Photo by Joan Marcus.
Going to see a new musical is kind of like getting into a car with a teenager. Sure, someone let this kid get his or her license, and you’ll probably eventually make your way to where you’re trying to go, but that doesn’t mean that you’re in for a smooth ride.

Luckily, Jason Robert Brown ("Parade," "The Last Five Years") isn’t some punk who’s taken mom’s sedan for a joyride. Mr. Brown is one of the smartest composers in contemporary musical theater, and it’s a joy to sit back and surrender to his latest offering, “The Bridges of Madison County,” which closes on Broadway this week.

READ MORE: Theater Talk: The Genius of 'The Last Five Years'

The musical, which, like almost every other new musical on Broadway this season, is based on the movie (and, in this case, book) of the same name, follows Francesca (Kelli O’Hara) who stays at home in 1960s Iowa while her husband (Hunter Foster) and children (Caitlin Kinnunen and Derek Klena) go off to the the fair in Indiana. A few hours after they leave, the tall, dark and handsome hippie Robert (Steven Pasquale) stops by the house, looking for the county’s famed covered bridges for his National Geographic photography assignment. Sparks fly between Francesca and Robert, and with her family’s return looming in the not-too-distant future, Francesca must decide between the life she’s always wanted to lead and her family, about whom she cares deeply.

Director Bartlett Sher has staged the production with an able hand, keeping the staging simple but effective. A plot like this could, too easily, fall into the saccharine conventions of melodrama, but Sher keeps the story nimbly moving along. Brown’s score is an impressive feat as well, lushly soaring to unimagined heights. “One Second and a Million Miles” is a bona fide showstopper, especially when delivered by performers as strong as Pasquale and O’Hara.

READ MORE: Theater Talk: Dream-Casting 'Frozen' on Broadway

In his first Broadway musical, Mr. Pasquale makes an impressive singing debut, maintaining Robert’s air of mystery but clearly demonstrating his attraction to Francesca. However, it’s really O’Hara who steals the show, heartbreakingly filling Francesca with inner life. As portrayed by a less capable actor, Francesca could come off as a carbon copy of a 1960s housewife, but O’Hara is so much more than just a carbon copy, and thus makes Francesca into a sympathetic and thoroughly likable character.

“The Bridges of Madison County” probably shouldn’t be as good as it is, but thankfully, this production is really quite good. With the exception of some muddy sound mixing that makes it hard to hear the actors over the orchestra or each other, the show goes off without a hitch. So sit back, relax, and soak up the aural and visual pleasure of “The Bridges of Madison County.”

“The Bridges of Madison County” plays at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (236 W. 45th St., New York, NY) through May 18. Tickets are $59-$141. For more information, visit BridgesOfMadisonCountyMusical.com.

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Reach Theater Editor Katie here; follow her on Twitter here.



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