“The Bridges of Madison County” – ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ February 18, 2016


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

There’s an abundance of performing arts riches in the Valley including Arizona Theatre Company’s staging of August Wilson’s “Fences,” the recently closed Arizona Opera “Carmen,” and now at ASU Gammage comes the exquisite romantic musical “The Bridges of Madison County” in a superb touring production that equals the original Broadway production.

The musical is based on the popular 1995 Meryl Streep/Clint Eastwood movie adapted from Robert James Waller’s novel.  Set in 1965, the story traces an Iowa farm couple, Bud and Francesca, and their two children.  Bud met Francesca in Italy.  She left with him for the United States where she lives a loveless life.  She misses her homeland and the romantic things Bud fails to provide.

Into Francesca’s life comes Robert to photograph the area’s bridges.  While Bud and the kids are at the State Fair, Francesca has a relationship with Robert.  When her husband returns, Francesca can’t leave.  The pair lose touch until Robert is dying as he rekindles Francesca’s longing.  It is one of the richest romantic Broadway musicals and the story is enhanced by Jason Robert Brown’s melodic score that adds touching tenderness to the story.

The remarkable touring production stars a bit frumpy, a tad heavy, and a deeply depressed Elizabeth Stanley who becomes Francesca.  Her never faltering Italian accent is both consistent and betters original Broadway star Kelli O’Hara who battled it not always successfully.  Stanley sings stunningly.  Andrew Samonsky delivers a touching Robert that is respectful of Francesca as he challenges her by expressing his genuine love.  Samonsky sings with soaring power.  Everyone else in the cast is perfect from the two almost adult children to the noisy neighbor.

The production has been simplified from Broadway but it is still beautiful.  Choreographed set pieces swirl and glide into place creating the various locales.  Evocative lighting enhances the story, and ASU Gammage’s new sound system, coupled with the touring show’s own amplification system, let’s audiences hear every word in this dialogue-critical show.  A wonderful orchestra plays the score with shimmering luster and the staging makes the necessary changes to accommodate the scenic modifications while keeping Barlett Sher’s original directorial concept.

“The Bridges of Madison County” brings Broadway to the Valley and even ASU Gammage rises to the occasion with flawless sound.  The only negative is that this five stars out of five “Bridges of Madison County” only plays until Sunday.  Interesting developments on future Broadway shows scheduled to play here.  The 2017/18 season will include the current Broadway hit “Hamilton,” and the 2016/17 season will be announced March 21.  For “The Bridges of Madison County” tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 800-965-6678 or order online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A