Theatre in Review

If you haven't seen the film version of “The Bridges of Madison County” starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, do not fear - the musical adaptation for the stage is full of beautiful songs and choreography that make this production a whole different animal than the 1995 movie and 1992 novel it was based. 

The story is simple, and universal. What to do when your life has not turned out the way you dreamed and true love steps in to give you another chance? Will you take a chance on Love? 

In "Bridges" we meet Francesca, an Italian war bride who married the first, kind GI she met after the war and came to America leaving everything familiar behind her to start a new life. While her husband and children are away at the state fair in Indianapolis for the weekend, fate brings true love knocking right on her front door in the form of a handsome and single National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid, who is on assignment in the area photographing the seven beautiful bridges of Madison County. 

After directions, that turns into a guided tour of the seventh bridge, followed by a few drinks and the sharing of deep personal stories, this compatible coupling quickly heats up into a life changing affair.

Francesca Johnson, played by the beautiful Kathy Voytko, reminds me a lot of a young Patti Lupone. Voytko, who has appeared in numerous Broadway productions, has a strong and lovely voice with a lovely Italian accent and very expressive face which reflects her growing attraction to Kincaid with every glance or bat of her large brown eyes. 

Kincaid, played by actor Nathaniel Stampley, comes alive on stage with a masculine warmth and grounded sensuality which make both Francesca and the audience feel she is infinitely safe within his embrace. We quickly realize that this is no one night stand nor even a chance encounter but all of destiny itself intervening to make these two lives powerfully intersect, if only for the weekend. 

Stampley and Voytco's passionate and unexpected love affair is well-supported with some comic relief by the actors who play her husband, kids and friends. Bart Shatto plays Bud while Brooke MacDougal plays the couple's young daughter Carolyn and Tanner Hake is their teen aged son Michael. Francesca's' supportive best friend, her closest neighbor out in farm country, is wonderfully played by Wydetta Carter. Carter also has a great Jazz voice and sings a very funny song about her envy of the magical love affair unfolding just across the fields from her perch in the front window of her country home. 

Jeffrey D. Kmiec's set design is very open, changing rapidly from the bridge location back to the kitchen and gives one the feeling that the ageless beauty of the bridges of Madison County represent a type of true love that is only found in dreams come true and that the small house in which Francesca and her family live is actually more of an astral 18 year-long "rest stop" -  that the travel loving and exotic Francesca is fundamentally out of place here.

I loved the song, "Before and After You" passionately and exquisitely sung by both Voytko and Stampley. The song perfectly describes how true love changes one's life and perceptions completely, making one realize in an instant just how much has been missing from their lives before they met and also how much their future lives will be forever indelibly stamped by the experience of this miraculous encounter and gift from fate. 

During their brief, but instantaneous, courtship over Francesca's kitchen table, Robert Kincaid, who is a devout loner and world traveler, tells her he feels disconnected from the world. In a flashback type setting, his ex-wife Marian, who is a hippy folk singer played by actress Emily Berman sings a very lovely song behind the flirting couple about her relationship with Kincaid and we see a whole other, liberal free loving side to the somber Kincaid character. The romantic, open-minded, artsy side of Kincaid has long since disappeared from his own consciousness as he jets sets around the globe never stopping for that "glass of iced tea or night cap of brandy" that will open the door to a new relationship thereby sidestepping over and over the vulnerability that a new relationship will inevitably bring. 

I highly recommend this beautifully cast and performed production of the stage musical. The relationships are very well played and the audience is allowed to see how the lover's interactions with each other bring to life all of the best aspects of their personalities, important living aspects and hopeful expectations of freedom and genuine loving excitement that have been long buried by the monotonous work and family demands of daily life. We also sit on pins and needles as the play brings its leading characters to an incredibly tough choice.

Voytco and Stampley's performances in the lead roles are deeply drawn, rich and compelling. Their chemistry feels real and palpable and their expansive individual artistry as singer/actors draws you in and makes the audience really care what choices they make and how their decisions will impact their mind-opening love affair, which is obviously a gift from heaven. 

“The Bridges of Madison County” is being performed at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through August 13th. For tickets and more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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