Colleen Delaney Mattingly & Landon Scholar. Photo: JCC
The Bridges of Madison County
Based on the novel by Robert James Waller
Book by Marsha Norman
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Michael Drury
A review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Years ago, the New York Times Bestselling book The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. Now, while I didn’t get to reading the novel, I did watch the movie. It really wasn’t what I would spend $10 to watch in a theater but it had its moments.
Fast forward a decade or so, Bridges is adapted as a musical for “The Great White Way”. To be honest I didn’t pay it any mind when it had its Broadway run because I had not been truly enamored with the movie. When CenterStage announced that Bridges would be a part of their 2019-2020 season, I thought that perhaps I should throw memories of what I had seen before and see what the new adaptation has in store. I am glad I gave Bridges another chance.
Italian-born Francesca (Colette Delaney Mattingly) and her wartime hero husband Bud Johnson (David Neil Cook) have created a sustainable life for themselves on their farm in Iowa while raising two children, Carolyn (Olivia Manning) and Michael (Noah Stewart), and prize-winning steer. When Bud and the children set off for competition in Indianapolis, Francesca stays behind to tend to the homestead. It is then that Francesca meets National Geographic photographer Robert (Landon Sholar) who is on assignment to shoot the covered bridges of Madison County for the magazine. Francesca and Robert begin a relationship that changes their lives forever. Is it love at first sight? Does Francesca leave her family? Does Robert stay in Iowa?
Again, CenterStage knocks it out of the park with the talent that they have assembled. The supporting cast includes Jacqui Davis, Ken Robinson, Brittany Morris Bullock, Hannah Jones Thomas, and Daniel Strasser, with voices that merged well. Of the ensemble, I almost laughed out loud when Mr. Strasser portrayed a grown-up Michael, as it was endearing and indicative of the character. While the voice work, such as Ms. Davis’ “Another Life” as Robert’s ex-wife Marian, was good, it was not perfect. Ms. Thomas was hard to understand throughout her song “State Road 21”. A little more enunciation would have helped.
Without a doubt, the funniest moments from the show come from the talented Rusty Henle and Rita Hight, who play neighbors to the Johnsons, Charlie and Marge, respectively. Mr. Henle displayed masterful comedic timing and Ms. Hight channeled a bit of Lucille Ball a loving and concerned friend. Her singing along to the radio was delightful to watch.
David Neil Cook’s Bud was well played and had a gentleman farmer feel when he sang about his wife in “Something from a Dream”…well, it just melts the heart. Mr. Stewart’s Michael and Ms. Manning’s Carolyn were performed just as well and their brother/sister chemistry was on target. I was pleasantly surprised by Ms. Manning’s vocals. A well-developed sound for a young lady her age.
I have enjoyed watching Ms. Mattingly and Mr. Sholar in other productions in and around Louisville in the past and was happy to see them working together. Their electricity is palpable and enjoyable. As two vocally gifted individuals, they certainly complimented each other. While not every duet or solo was perfect – such as some unevenness with Francesca’s “Almost Real”, more often the singing was sumptuous, such as their “Before and After You” and Robert’s “It All Fades Away”.
As for the acting, all around it was good, although Ms. Mattingly’s accent sounded more Irish Brogue than Italian. Some of the one-liners either made me giggle or made me swoon.
The production company did very well with the set design by Patrick Jump and Michael Drury as well as the costumes by Susan Nelson. I was quite impressed with the lighting, courtesy of Nick Dent and what I would guess were hard to find props by Jill-Marie Schierbaum. Michael Drury’s direction was well-paced and the staging was very fluid.
The small sextet orchestra led by Julie McKay on keyboards, including Benji Simmons on percussion, effectively in providing the musical soundtrack of the evening. However, there were a couple of times, such as on “Something from a Dream”, that the strings were sounding a bit sharp.
Despite the ongoing problems that CenterStage continues to have with their microphone system, the production was most certainly a humdinger of a presentation. I may indeed make a trip back to see The Bridges of Madison County.
Bridges of Madison County
October 31, November 2, 4, 7, 9 & 11 @ 7:30 pm
November 3 & 10 @ 2 pm
Tickets are $22 in advance, $24 on Saturday night and Sunday matinees, $24 “at the door” charge
Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.