REVIEW: BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
at Vintage Theatre
by Mona Lott
All I knew about The Bridges Of Madison County was that a romantic, “chick flick” had been made with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep based on a romance novel of the same name written in 1992 by Robert James Waller. I wasn’t even aware that a musical had been written as well, and with good reason. The musical version with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown only ran on Broadway for 137 performances during the winter of 2014. With a mixed bag of reviews mostly praising the music and orchestrations by Brown and the performance of Broadway Veteran, Kelli O’hara, most reviewers found the book by “Night Mother” author Marsha Norman to be cumbersome.That in mind, I questioned why a local theater group like The Vintage Theatre would even want to put up this show.
Perhaps they wanted to showcase the exceptional voices of Andy Sievers and Megan Van De Hey as Robert Kincaid and Francesca respectfully. Here the music succeeds with a soaring score allowing both to open fully and let loose sustained tones and rising measures of music. And though the music is opera like, pretty and Van De Hey’s voice gorgeous, the songs fail to move the plot along or reveal the guts of the characters and Van De Hey’s lyrics become difficult to decipher under a convincing but heavy Italian accent.
Most difficult for these two actors is to transcend the heavy, somber, and rather dull script while simultaneously trying to make us like an Italian War Bride brought back to the states to raise a family who she is now betraying by having an affair with a rather alof and guarded photographer sent by National Geographic in need of directions to a bridge he has been assigned to take pictures of. A rather contrived and hard to believe set of circumstances builds out of this chance encounter in a plodding script that in all candor never seems to go anywhere. Francesca speaks of Iowa as being flat and not easy to escape which could have convincingly described this show as well.
Sievers and Van De Hey work hard to show some chemistry and to wrestle the cheese out of much of the dialogue, but ultimately are taken down by the book. The story seems to be absent of any tension or plot surprises that could move the play along. Even the revealing first kiss of this ill fated affair lacks any surprise or revelation as the foreshadowing is so obviously thrust at us from the moment Kincaid knocks on the door that we respond with a disappointed, duh.
Francesca’s husband Bud and sparring children, Carolyn and Michael played by Daniel Seifert, Payton Goodwin and Drew Black are so familiar and charming that it’s near impossible to not pick sides with the family rather than root for the selfish Francesca and the irresponsible Kincaid. The chemistry with the children is fun and interesting and the vocals of Black and Goodwin on Home Before You Know It are fresh and delightful. Even the boring and stoic Bud is likable and relatable enough portrayed by Seifert that you wish he would quit making the repetitive and unnecessary phone calls and actually go home and catch the unfaithful and adulterous foreigner in the act!
The comic relief and thank heavens there is comic relief, is brilliantly done by Abby Apple Boes and Tim Fishbaugh as neighbors, Marge and Charlie. As the “straight man”, Fishbaugh elicits laughs by pulling Apple Boes back from a not quite over the top performance and also performs a very delightful solo spot on When I’m Gone. As it is, Apple Boes is hilariously broad with the humor and with great skill pulls it in for some compassionate and understanding moments late in act two.
The rest of the ensemble is also noticeably talented sounding glorious in underscored vocals of “ohhs” and “ahhs” that lift up the solo work of other characters. Standouts were Bethany Luhrs as Mariah and Onna O’Meara singing beautifully at a very underwhelming square dance. I only wish the ensemble had been given the chance to break out, but laden by the heavy feel of this script and choreography that mainly consisted of sauntering in straight lines with hands at their sides, the vocals were the only chance to demonstrate their immense talent.
Bernie Cardell has expertly pulled together a powerful, talented, wonderful cast but the show is stuck in the confines of a rather ploddingly slow, cliche and unremarkable libretto. Maybe next time Vintage Theater can pull this brilliant group of artists together again for maybe a production of Oklahoma! Now, that’s an exciting show! .
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is enchanting audiences now through August 5th at Vintage. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. with additional performances on Monday, July 9 and Thursdays, August 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, August 4 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at www.vintagetheatre.org or by calling 303-856-7830. Vintage Theatre is located at 1468 Dayton Street in Aurora, CO.