Not since “The Light in the Piazza” has a score so overflowed with emotion and moved its audience with its beauty. For classic heart-wrenching ballads that hearken back to the golden age of Broadway, “The Bridges of Madison County” is the show to see this season. I can’t wait to see it again just to hear the gorgeous, romantic score, of a type not seen on Broadway in a long while, sung live. Thanks to the always astounding Kelli O’Hara, perhaps the best interpreter of lush, romantic scores, and the fantastic musical newcomer Stephen Pasquale, this show absolutely captivates.
It’s no coincidence that O’Hara is partly responsible for the splendor of both “Bridges” and “Piazza”, the two most romantic scores on Broadway since “West Side Story”. Her voice is the stuff wildly romantic songs rely upon. She only gets more expressive and more sophisticated in performance with each Broadway season. It would be a mistake if she didn’t take home the Tony this year.
Steven Pasquale is unbelievably making his Broadway musical debut, and presenting a showcase in how to be a leading male heartthrob. (At the stage door, this 7-foot-tall Russian woman, wearing 5-inch open-toed stilettos in winter and smoking 7 cigarettes during the 20 minutes we waited, had Pasquale sign her fully exposed breast without have English at her disposal. Suffice it to say the rest of the waiting crowd was horrified.) He is just so great. His Robert is up there with Matthew Morrison’s Fabrizio for perfect male love story performances. As the show progresses, and as we get to know the character more, his voice opens up and takes control not only of the house but seemingly of the entire theatre district. I cannot think of another male vocal performance as commendable this season (save Ramin Karimloo in “Les Miserables”, but Les Mis shouldn’t count).
The show’s book is much more decent than I would have expected with such a doe-eyed show. There were a few clunky lines and transitions, but for the most part everything flowed. The best part of the book came from Francesca’s neighbors, the old married couple Marge and Charlie (Cass Morgan and Michael X. Martin). Nosy but lovable Marge knows something is up with her neighbor and pesters her husband about what he would do if she cheated on him. Their neighborly interactions, nosy wonderings, and hilarious repartee is a very necessary comedic relief in this very cryfest of a show. The single funniest part is unspoken, just Marge pressed against her screen door and reaching for binoculars. Amazing. The best line, though, comes from Francesca, when Robert makes a comment on what brought him to Iowa and she says it was “the patron saint of Iowa housewives.” Italians and their patron saints. (Although in the opening song, Francesca’s accent sounded Irish. Whatever, it was still beautiful.)
My other favorite part of the book was when Robert said he was a vegetarian because he “just feels better when [he] doesn’t eat meat.” Score! And when he gathers vegetables from the garden, Francesca comments that he didn’t get kale, which she would have expected because it is a very American thing. Or something very current about the obsession with kale. Tee hee.
The only part I didn’t care too much about was all the time spent at the fair, where Francesca’s husband (Hunter Foster) and kids went during this week. One hitchy-giddyup song was kind of irritating, as was the “Oh I’m in Iowa” song that came instead of a needed emotional release.
But it is worth the ticket price alone to hear the standout moment of the show, the Act II duet between Francesca and Robert called “One Second & A Million Miles”. It is so gorgeous, the girl in front of me started sobbing at its beauty. As did the girl behind her.
The very “500 Days of Summer”-esque staging of the ‘fantasy’ and ‘actual’ endings, when she makes her choice between staying with her family or leaving with her love, is extremely effective and heartbreaking. The show is overall wonderful and should have a long run, but it is facing a challenge from the abundance of quality shows running right now. Hopefully, people won’t assume that they already know this story from the movie or the book and will instead take in one of the most beautiful shows in a while.