Alex Craig & Colette Delaney Mattingly in The Bridges of Madison County. Photo: Bunbury Theatre

The Bridges of Madison County

Music by Jason Robert Brown
Book by Marsha Norman
Directed by Sharon Kinnison

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

As a novel, The Bridges of Madison County came out of nowhere, an unknown writer publishing his first book. It sold over 60 million copies, a sensation reviled by critics, one review calling it a great romantic crock whose prose resembled a greeting card, but the public didn’t care, and the story continues on more than 30 years later.

I read it when it first came out, and it was an easily digestible story, but I certainly wouldn’t claim it as great literature. But the narrative of a second opportunity for passion, even when illicit, is an irresistible recipe for commercial success. It resonates with every middle age or older person who has experienced a mid-life crisis, and maybe a few younger adults as well.

Of course, there was a film adaptation, but Bridges may have found its ideal incarnation as a stage musical. The swooning romance and passion are perfectly translated into a Broadway score, and the two main characters provide juicy, demanding roles.

Francesca (Colette Delaney Mattingly) is an Iowa farmer’s wife whose husband and children are away from the farm, leaving her alone in a melancholy place. Francesca was born in Italy, a war bride 20 years after Peace in Europe, nd she has nevere been back to see family. When National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid (Alex Craig) stops by for directions and ends up staying for dinner, a love story begins that is difficult not be drawn in to.

But playwright and Louisville native Marsha Norman builds effectively on elements only suggested in both the book and movie. The road trip to the Indiana State Fair for regional competition of Francesca’s husband, Bud (John Shelton), son Michael (Finnegan Broyles), and daughter Carolyn (Alexis Lerner) becomes a full subplot that fleshes out the risk she faces in her attraction to Robert. There is also a nice contrast provided in family friends Marge (Candace Kresse) and Charlie (Gary Tipton). As Marge begins to notice how much time the photographer is spending with Francesca, Kresse’s performance is a seeming threat that turns into a measure of true friendship and the secret weapon of this p[roduction.

The Indiana State Fair provides a high energy 2nd act opener in “State Road 21”, given a strong performance by Anna Berry, but most of James Robert Brown’s score is focused on sensitive, heartfelt ballads of loss and longing, and casting the two leads is crucial. Colette Delaney Mattingly has one of the finest voices to grace a stage in this community, and she handles the vocal demands with aplomb – no surprise there, she has played Francesca before – but she also explores the emotional conflict with care and integrity (although to this ear her Italian dialect sounded more Irish). Alex Craig is an appropriate masculine presence to Mattingly’s feminine grace, and sings with a searching, sensitive voice.

The open set with a geometric framework suggestive of the covered bridges that are central to the title, if not the plot, is beautiful, and augmented by a few spare set pieces and one almost fully realized kitchen. At times the scene changes felt just a …tad…cumbersome, but it all looked really good and worked.

A terrific orchestra provides lovely accompaniment. There is no credit for musical direction but John Austin Clark was on keyboards so I might hazard that guess. Anyway, they sounded good but faded into the background appropriately when the the onstage performances demanded it.

Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown lift The Bridges of Madison County beyond the rarified romance novel origin into a solid American musical theatre classic that pays unexpected dividends, and director Sharon Kinnison and producer John Campbell Finnigan have delivered an exemplary production that seems to put Bunbury Theatre on solid footing after a rocky start to this last season. 

The Bridges of Madison County

June  9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, & 24  @ 7:30 pm
June 11, & 18 @ 2:00 pm

For Tickets

Bunbury Theatre
The Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. 3rd Street,
Louisville, KY 40202

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for