My Personal View of a ‘Bridge’

You are probably familiar with The Bridges of Madison County. It was written in the 90s by Robert James Waller, and tells the story of a married, lonely Iowa housewife and a single, lonely traveling photographer. It was a massive best seller and then a film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. It is now a Broadway musical. At the risk of losing my self-respect, I have to admit that although it was badly written, I was practically sobbing at the end of the book. I wish I could blame it on the flu that I had at the time, but I cried at the end of the film as well.

I think I’ve fully disclosed that I am a hopeless, sappy romantic, easily swayed by love and loss. I’m also a huge musical theater fan. So how come the musical version of this story didn’t move me at all? In fact, the two strongest emotions elicited from me at the Schoenfeld Theatre were boredom and annoyance.

Despite some lovely melodies and good lyrics, gorgeously sung by both Kelli O’Hara (an all-American cutie miscast as an earthy displaced Italian) and Steven Pasquale (appropriately hunky), I found myself thinking while sitting there for over 2 hours, “Not another song already!?” Songs sung by the leads? Yes. The husband? Fine. The kids, neighbors, townspeople, fair-goers, ex-wives? Too much. The annoyance came from what felt like 300 scene and scenery changes. House frames, kitchens, chairs, a staircase, a car interior, a truck interior, a storefront, the neighbor’s house, a diner booth, a state fair, a bar, a bedroom, another bedroom, fences, a street of storefronts, a bull’s stall (don’t ask), either flown in from the flyspace, or wheeled in from the wings by costumed actors. I get it: Madison County is a caring, involved community, and the two lovers are never really alone, okay, but sheesh, it never stopped, and all that clutter and busyness took me right out of the story. Also, the “set” for the all-important covered bridge was neither bridgelike nor covered nor imaginative.

This is an intimate story of little shared moments, possibly the most important of which is when Francesca and Robert are about to hold each other for the first time, and dance in the kitchen. They switch on the radio. Suddenly, downstage the actress playing the neighbor starts to sing. I’m thinking, is she the actress singing? Or is the neighbor listening to the same radio station? And why am I watching her sing instead of waiting with bated breath for a kiss? Many times, when the chemistry and tension should’ve been unbearably romantic and erotic (as it is in the movie), audience focus is pulled away. It’s difficult enough to pull in 1,080 audience members to what is essentially just the chemistry between two characters. It’s downright impossible when a show constantly throws water onto whatever O’Hara and Pasquale attempt to ignite.

If some songs and subplots—nosy neighbors, townspeople, bland children, state fairs, flashbacks—are excised, and all of the scenery is burned in a big bonfire, I think there’s an intimate, 90-minute quiet piece of powerful theatre in there.

Holly Caster has lived in Nyack with her playwright husband, two kids, and two cats for over 10 years. She is by trade a writer and by nature a fan of theater, movies, books, history, & art.