“The Bridges of Madison County,” the new Broadway musical based on Robert James Waller’s bestselling novel about the brief affair between Francesa, an Italian-born Iowa farm wife, and world-traveling National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid, has opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld theater, directed by Bartlett Sher, and starring Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale. Composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown (“Parade,” “The Last Five Years”) has written the songs; playwright Marsha Norman (best-known for the play “‘night, Mother” but also the book writer for the musicals “The Secret Garden,” and “The Color Purple”) has written the dialogue.
While Waller’s book had its detractors, the 1996 film adaptation starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep won generally favorable reviews, Roger Ebert calling it a “deeply moving…wonderful love story.”
How has the stage adaptation fared among the critics? Consensus: Score soars, leads sizzle, book bloats.
Ben Brantley, New York Times: “Kelli O’Hara.. more than keeps the promises made by her interpretation of that first song, one of many sumptuous pieces that feel as if they had been written specifically for her by the show’s composer, Jason Robert Brown. She also confirms her position as one of the most exquisitely expressive stars in musical theater….The rest of the show, directed by Bartlett Sher with a script by Marsha Norman, isn’t nearly as multidimensional. Though Ms. O’Hara has a lust-worthy leading man in Steven Pasquale, most of what surrounds her has the depth of a shiny picture postcard, one that bears a disproportionately long and repetitive message.”
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: “A sometimes bloated and meandering book by Marsha Norman and some odd choices by director Bartlett Sher can’t take anything away from a score that brilliantly goes from torch song to blues and honky-tonk to virtual opera, led by two actors with genuine feeling and a seemingly endless reservoir of notes.”
Peter Marks, Washington Post: “… the love story at the center of this “Bridges,” directed with sensitive command by Bartlett Sher, gives off some bracing sparks, even if some of the plot embellishments dreamed up to broaden the musical’s scope do not feel like anything more than time-filling devices….” It’s also Brown’s most emotionally gripping score, with fleeting tastes of country and folk rock. As a result of his supple compositions and O’Hara’s renditions of them, “Bridges” leaves you with the feeling that you have something valuable to contemplate.”
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: “…Fussy direction and design choices and cumbersome book scenes crowd the central couple, but the gorgeous voices and thoughtful characterizations of Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale in those roles help counter the weaknesses of this problematic romantic musical.”
Robert Kahn, NBC: “The engaging new musical “The Bridges of Madison County,” now open at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, left me wondering two things. First: Can Kelli O’Hara do anything? And second: Are we so starved for affection we’re willing to give over our hearts to a story that is — sorry, folks! — utterly preposterous?…The answers: Indeed…And, apparently, yes.”
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly “…a lush and deeply romantic score, filled with rich and melodic duets that show off its leads’ terrific voices…The tunes help compensate for Marsha Norman’s more problematic book, which stumbles whenever the spotlight isn’t on Francesca and Robert. The story has no real villains, or even antagonists, to work up a plot worth sustaining for 2 hours and 45 minutes.”
Linda Winer, Newsday: So many intelligent, gifted artists are involved in this adaptation that we wish the objective were deeper than a high-toned bodice ripper with comic-relief detours into conventional Broadway. But Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale, magnificently magnetic as Francesca and Robert, make the ripping feel like real heartbreak…. With so much padding in the second act, however, we have too much time to realize how shamelessly we’re being manipulated.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: [My] jaded eyes, by the end of the show, had misted up more than once; and judging from the waves of muffled sniffles around me, this was not an uncommon response. Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown’s adaptation earns those tears. The musical’s emotion is unapologetically grand, and its love duets have a wide, old-fashioned scope. Directed with spare precision by Bartlett Sher—reunited with his most of his South Pacific design team—it’s a new work that plays like a classic….Singing mostly in her luxurious upper register, O’Hara sounds ravishing, and she and Pasquale—in the performance of his career—generate that rarest of Broadway commodities: a genuine spark of erotic heat.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: “overly earnest… Despite some beautiful music from Jason Robert Brown and exquisite singing from Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale, “Bridges,” which is directed by Bartlett Sher, is a curiously somber and remote musical. These problems are caused partly by a Marsha Norman book that captures much but misses the movie’s smoldering passions, and to no small extent by the tendency of both these stars to remain very much in their own worlds and to play the end of their affaire de coeur right from the start.from amny, two stars: “There probably is a way to make “The Bridges of Madison County” work as an unashamedly sentimental musical. This isn’t it. As devised by its creators, this [is a] slow, static and quiet adaptation of Robert James Waller’s bestselling romance novel.”
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