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5/19/14

The Bridges of Madison County Got Utterly Screwed and it Hurts My Insides

Ugh, I can't, lovely reading kittens. The Bridges of Madison County is (was) a show that shouldn’t have worked. It’s source material is pretty dubious - everyone I spoke to that read it says it downright sucks - and prior to this musical, the best iteration is, debatably, the film with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. To that I say, in what cray cray world do you cast those acting titans and not get an above-par film?

I know; I'm sad too Kelli.
But this musical. This musical. My favorite of all the Broadway entries this season and one of the only few that (1) wasn’t a jukebox or unoriginal score and (2) actually played up the intelligence of the audience. No unsubtle commentary. No heavy-handed themes or imagery. Not too many missteps throughout its entire runtime (Okay, I lied...Derek Klena as a 16-year-old was never not going to be unintentionally hilarious. Especially when the much shorter, scrawnier Hunter Foster threw the over 6-feet tall Klena to the ground, “Life Alert” commercial style. I mean, talk about LOLZ for days).

But the incorporation of music really upgraded The Bridges of Madison County into something incredible, something I have been telling everyone I know so they could purchase tickets to the show. Much in the same way ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ in Once communicate everything they are thinking and their affection for one another through the score - at a heightened emotional sense that a book or spoken word could never articulate - a similar feat is achieved between Francesca and Robert. Let’s face it: had the two of them poured their guts out to each other sans music, it would have been silly and juvenile with their three-day eternal love affair (paging Cosette and Marius!). But no…the connection between the two was knife-in-the-heart wrenching when Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale were blasting their vocal cords off at each other. That is musical theatre at its peak - when the lyrics and music, expertly sung, become the most euphoric form of entertainment that it is always meant to be.

Jason Robert Brown’s score was perfectly suited for the show. Bartlett Sher’s direction wasn’t infallible, but it was a fine effort. O’Hara and Pasquale were a dream team whom sang beautifully. So why was this show a commercial bomb, before and after the Tony nominations? Well, the latter is pretty self-explanatory - no Best Musical, no Pasquale and omissions in some of the creative/design categories and out with the bathwater goes The Bridges of Madison County.

But before the Tony nominations? I have several tinfoil hat theories. I tend to think the original text’s reception muffled the interest for the show, no matter how much the film’s reputation compensates. Bridges’ reviews weren’t stellar (for some reason), but mixed-to-positive reviews are not exactly condemning.

The biggest thing, as far as I can tell, is…well, the theatre staples (The Lion King, Wicked, The Book of Mormon) play to packed houses, but this season had a lot of appealing offerings. The revivals have their followings and leads (Les Miserables, Cabaret, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and some star-led plays are raking in the monies (All the Way, A Raisin in the Sun, Of Mice and Men, The Cripple of Inishmaan, even the not-nominated for anything The Realistic Joneses). Then, the gaggle of new musicals - Aladdin, Rocky, If/Then, Beautiful - edge out Bridges for one reason or another: Disney property, movie/dude appeal, Adele Dazeem publicity and Carole King jukebox score respectively. Every year always has a few must-sees, but there was triple the amount this spring. Hence, Bridges was relegated to the bottom. No matter that it has Broadway’s target demographic in mind (women of a certain age), there was only so much it could do.

See ya, Bridges. You were marvelous and I loved you. Shows fail all the time and your premature departure is up there with the best of them. Now, to echo the online commentariat, you go and get yourself produced regionally. I’ll come by if you are somewhere in the northeast.

P.S. Should Bridges' closing screw Kelli out of her long long long overdue Tony award, I’ll be sad…thankfully, she’ll be back in the race next year with The King and I.


Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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