MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Bridges of Madison County

A Chicago Premiere.

Book by Marsha Norman.

Music & Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown.

Based on the novel by Robert James Waller.

Directed by Nick Bowling.

Music Direction by Ryan T. Nelson.

Musical staging by William Carlos Angulo.

At Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire.

Sizzling, romanticly passionate musical from the heartland a work of art.

If you want to have a hit musical, best to find a director who is as passionate about the location, the story and the music  as Nick Bowling is. His love of Iowa and Brown’s score and his superb casting of Kathy Voytko, as Francesca, and Natheniel Stampley, as Robert Kincaid launched The Bridges of Madison County. This is a magnificant musical with loads of heart, a true romance and a worthy story of ‘what could have been.’ It creates a honest tone that depits the blandness of rural Iowa farm life with the honest of caring folks and functioning rural farm life in 1965.  Their is a  wholesomeness to this musical that explodes into passion between two lonely, unfulfilled folks. Bridges is an artistic masterpiece that tells a story that may have happened more often that we may think.

The Bridges of Madison County is the story of a Italian war bride, Francesca, who is saved from raveged Italy by an americal GI who marries her and takes he back to his farm in rural Iowa. Francesca and Bud (Bart Shatto) in 1965 have been married for 18 years and they have two children, Michael (Tanner Hake) and Carolyn (Brooke MacDougal) now teenagers. Bud is a good man despite being a bore-he is a typical farmer bent on raising his crops and providing for his family. Francesca loves him but she urns for more exciment in her life.

In summer of 1965, Bud takes Michael and Carolyn to the 4-H State Fair in Indianoplois since Carolyn has entered her steer in the Best of Show contest. Francesca stays home to enjoy a few days of alone-time. But, a few hours into he solitude, a blue pick-up truck enters her drive wayand a handsome middle aged man knocks on her door asking directions to one of the covered bridges nearby. He is  Robert Kincaid, a feeelance photographer commissioned by the National Geographic magazine to photograph the bridges of Madison Country.  Immediately sparks fly between the two lonely folks. They seem to have much in common deep down. The early songs move  the romance along as both  Kathy Voytko and Nathaniel Stampley deliver Brown’s almost operatic in part score with loads of heart. Brown even has a bit of backstory for Robert as we hear memories of his ex-wife, Marian, a folk singer played by Emily Berman who nails the folksy tune “Another Life.”

But the solos and duets by Voytko and Stampley soar into our hearts as their loneliness and desires give them hope for an exciting future. Francesca realizes that Robert could be the soulmate she has long desired. Robert realizes that Francesca has the spark he yearns for. She has a choice as Robert urges her to leave the farm and join him on his adventures.

What Francesca decides is predictable yet, to her, having a taste of pure romance and realizing that she could of left her stable life to live an adventure is enough to sustain her since her love for Bud and the children is strong enough to sustain her. We emparhize with Francesca and Robert and we agree that life’s family obligations necessiate full commitment.

But the whole romanic encounter is so wonderfully created with Brown’s magnificantly varied music and the performances of Voytko and Stampley  and director Nick Bowling’s honest and sincere direction, that The Bridges of Madison County presents as a passionate romantic musical that enchants and pleases. The Bridges of Madison County is a refreshing, beautifully staged musical that is as much an art piece as a charming musical. It is a freshing new musical that begs to be seen.

(BTY, seeing the film with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep before seeing the musical at Marriott Theatre will only enhance the power of the musical.)

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended.

At Marriott Theatre,  10 Marriott Drive, Linconlshire, IL, call 847-634-0200,, tickets $50 – $60,Wednesdays at 1 & 8 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 1 & 5 pm with select Thursdays at 1 pm, running time is 2 hours, 35 minutes with intermission, through Augusy 13, 2017.]