The Bridges of Madison County Crosses Over With Glorious Soundtrack

The root of the word musical is music.  Everybody knows that.  But the word that stands in the shadows of the root word is good.  Songs crammed into a book does not a musical make.  Fortunately, “The Bridges of Madison County” doesn’t suffer from that problem.

10.196053“The Bridges of Madison County” originated as a novel written by Robert James Waller and published in 1992.  It stayed on the “New York Times” best-seller list for three years.  In 1995, it was adapted to a movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep as Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson, the main characters.  The film was equally as commercially successful as the novel garnering an Academy Award Best Actress nomination for Streep.

The plot of “The Bridges of Madison County” centers on two lonely people that find comfort and true love in one another during a four-day long affair that each carries with them for the rest of their lives.  Robert Kincaid is an aloof photojournalist working for “National Geographic.”  Francesca Johnson is an Italian war bride that was looking for an escape when she married her husband Richard and settled with him in a farming town in Iowa.  Richard takes their teenage children, Michael and Carolyn, to a state fair leaving Francesca alone when Robert pulls up in her driveway.  He was sent on assignment to photograph the covered bridges in the area and was lost.  He asks Francesca for directions to the Roseman Covered Bridge. She shows him how to get there and the two hit it off.  The chemistry between them is palpable and after a conversation and dinner the pair begins an affair.  Realizing each other is the love they had been waiting for; they contemplate sharing their lives together.   Francesca decides that she can’t abandon her family, so the two separate and never see each other again.

9.196055 “The Bridges of Madison County” the film is the quintessential chick flick for an evening in with your spouse or a girl’s get together.  The musical adaptation of this story is no exception.  In fact, the music and lyrics of composer Jason Robert Brown only amplifies its beauty.  The longing and vulnerability that Francesca masks is fully exposed in Kelli O’Hara’s performance.  She was joy to watch in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” the pleasure of seeing her on stage increased triple-fold after seeing her in this production.  Her voice is lovely and the score makes good use of her range.  After seeing Steven Pasquale walk on stage from the audience, I could see why Francesca’s locked desires were released.  He makes for a much sexier Robert Kincaid than Clint Eastwood.  There is no one in the audience that couldn’t understand why Francesca was close to jetting off into the sunset with him.  The synergy O’Hara and Pasquale created onstage was complimented by the score as the two created wonderful harmony together. In this adaptation the music is the third member of this love triangle and the scrumptious singing of O’Hara and Pasquale makes the audience want to root for their romance. Hunter Foster has a sturdiness to him that makes him perfect for the no-nonsense, all-American fellow.  Once again he excels in his portrayal of Bud (Richard).  For me the breakout performance is delivered by Cass Morgan who plays Marge, the nosey neighbor with a heart of gold.  Her solo of “Get Closer” was the hit of the night.

10.196051It’s delightful to see a new musical with a score like this keeping the future of the American musical alive with vibrant energy.  However there are a few components of “The Bridges of Madison County” that fell short.  One was the lack of choreography.  When it comes to musicals I believe music and choreography are what make a musical number and assist in driving the book forward.  There is only one number in this production that has choreography, and while the music is stimulating, the lack of movement makes the entire show somewhat incomplete.  Also, throughout the musical the extras are present on stage, sitting in chairs quietly observing.  But from time to time they are moving about, assisting with moving the set around.  At first I was unsure they were just there to move the set or if their presence had a more artistic meaning.  The optimist in me hopes for the latter, for if not the extras would be an awkward solution to the issue of changing the set and its props.  But these are just minor glitches that can be overlooked when one hears the incredible score and the great chemistry of O’Hara and Pasquale.  All and all “The Bridges of Madison County” is a bridge worth coming to.

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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Three the Hard Way – Orphans Steals Broadway

Sometimes three can be a hard combination to maneuver.  Our society favors couples; hence someone will always be the odd man out.  But I have witnessed an exception, Lyle Kessler’s Orphans has three good reasons for going to taking a trip down to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre – Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge. 

Orphans tells the story of two parentless brothers barely surviving on the hard streets of North Philly.  Older brother Treat resorts to petty crime and manipulation to take care of younger brother Phillip.  Living in a dilapidated home and eating tuna fish every day isn’t a satisfactory existence for Treat.  He attempts to upgrade his station by kidnapping a bigwig for a big payday, but he and Phillip get more than they bargain for with Harold.  Harold, also an orphan, provides the boys with a warped sense of stability and a father figure. 

3.185821We have all heard the saying, “honor amongst thieves.”  When actors come together to bring life to a script, they must bring integrity to the role as well as respect for one another.  The cast of Orphans does this in an impeccable fashion.  Each one of these actors played their role as if it was created for them.  Alec Baldwin is Daddy Warbucks meets Captain Hook; his skill as actor simply shines as he leads the boys down the proverbial primrose path that crime offers with compassion and love. Treat, on the other hand, has made a living leading Phillip and others up the old garden path.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one dives into the deep end of darkness like Ben Foster.  He definitely didn’t disappoint in his Broadway debut. Foster’s portrayal of Treat is steeped in complex layers of pain that made me want to clutch my purse in fear only to feel an emotional 180, desiring to give him a comforting hug, which he probably wouldn’t accept.  Tom Sturridge’s interpretation of Phillip offered a sense of sincere dynamism and vulnerability.  I enjoyed how he used John Lee Beatty’s set design as his own personal parkour course, strategically crouching and jumping at will as if he was using the art of misdirection to keep Treat unaware of his true intelligence.  Despite all the drama the occurred before Orphans began previews; the drama present on stage is dark, delicious and a great display of acting that is sure to garner a Tony nomination, or two, or three.

3.185820In boxing, a sure way to get a knock out is to connect two punches to the body and one to the head. Orphans executes a theatrical blow that could rival a Mike Tyson KO back in the 80s.  And like Tyson, Baldwin, Foster and Sturridge show that hitting with bad intentions can sometimes be a good thing.

Photos:  Broadway.com

Top Five Reasons Why I Can’t Wait To See Ben Foster in Orphans

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Everybody knows Shia LaBeouf dropped out of Orphans, which begins previews on March 26, and was replaced by Ben Foster.  While I do like LaBeouf, the addition of Foster to the cast makes me want to run outside and sing in the street as if I were Julie Andrews singing on a grassy hilltop.  Ben Foster is one of the brightest stars of his generation and I’m waiting on bated breath to see him display his talent live on stage.  If you don’t know about Ben Foster, you better ask somebody.  Or, you can just ask me – I will give you five reasons why I can’t wait to see Ben Foster on Broadway.

  1.  Alpha DogAlpha Dog ….ALPHA DOG!  His performance in this movie was so visceral that I had to write the title more than once. 
  2. No young actor slips into darkness better than Ben Foster.  Whether we are talking about his character in Contraband, 30 Days of Night or  the remake of The Mechanic, Foster can thread the line of master manipulator and  bat sh*t crazy with the skill of an expert tailor.  The audience never sees the hemlines, just a beautifully crafted performance partly because Foster isn’t afraid to go there.
  3. Hottie….Hello?!  Ben Foster is cutie pie with a side of brooding sex appeal.
  4. He knows how to pick ‘em.  The secret to an actor’s success is the selection of the right films early in their career.  Judging by Foster’s body of work, I believe this choice will only strengthen his already accomplished body of work.
  5. Foster is the better man.  No offense to La Beouf (he has had his share of blockbusters), but Foster is the better man to tackle a role like this.

Orphans will be playing a limited engagement at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Don’t foster any delusions about missing this production; I predict it will be one of the best productions this season.   

Photo: Jerry Avenaim/Creative24

Orphans Coming To Broadway

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A couple of wayward children are about to make their way onto Broadway stage but they ain’t like the little girl with the auburn locks and her sassy crew crooning about a hard knock life.  These boys mean business and they plan to survive by any means necessary.

This spring Broadway gets a little dark and dirty with Orphans starring Alec Baldwin, Tom Sturridge and Shia LaBeouf.  To give you FAMERS a lil’ hint about the show, let me provide you with the “official” description:  Two orphaned brothers live in their decrepit North Philadelphia row house. They survive by petty thievery and a steady diet of tuna fish and daytime television until the violent older brother decides to kidnap Harold, a notorious Chicago gangster played by Alec Baldwin. Harold soon becomes the force that will forever change their lives.

Got your attention yet?  It sure has mine!  Written by Lyle Kessler and directed by Daniel Sullivan, Orphans is debuting on Broadway 30 years after its premiere.  La Beouf will also be making his Broadway debut as well.

I for one could never resist a Baldwin brother, so I’m super excited to see Alec Baldwin moving from 30 Rock to Times Square.  Orphans will be playing a limited 15 week engagement at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre and is scheduled to premiere on April 7.   Get ready to get your tickets and get naughty. 

To learn more about Orphans or purchase tickets, visit http://orphansonbroadway.com/.

 Photos:  Alec Baldwin: Mary Ellen Matthews, Shia LaBeouf: Nino Munoz/CPi Syndication, Tom Sturridge: Julian Broad/Contour by Getty Images