Thursday, February 18, 2016

reviews - THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY - National Tour: ASU Gammage

Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky
photo: Matthew Murphy
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 21st.

"...On a painted backdrop, the American heartland seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. Francesca (a luminous Elizabeth Stanley) enters and through song tells the story of a nervous bride leaving her home of Napoli with her soldier from the states...through the lyrics we can already tell that the life she’s built is not necessarily the one she wants; it’s one she’s settled for....Francesca’s decent, average, hardworking husband Bud (Cullen R. Titmas) and her two children, son Michael (John Campione) and daughter Carolyn (Caitlan Houlahan) leave for an out of state trip to Indianapolis for the State Fair. It’s during those three days while the family is away that a stranger passes through the small town of Winterset, Iowa...Robert (Andrew Samonsky...) is a photographer on assignment to take pictures of Madison County’s seven covered bridges for National Geographic. ...Unlike the book, the appeal of the musical is Jason Robert Brown’s Tony award winning score. ...the musical may be void of showstoppers in the traditional sense but given the setting and the kind of people these characters are, the tuneful score works...But the score is also a culprit in what doesn’t work. The simple story is padded with what feels like unnecessary moments that merely stretch things out rather than add insight to the tale of Francesca and her handsome stranger. ...Michael Yeargan’s scenic design of an open heartland, lit by Donald Holder’s ever changing colors of a golden-hewed sunset or a blazing red morning, captures the eye throughout and nicely creates that sense of a vast, open mid-western prairie...." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"Composer Jason Robert Brown has won two Tony Awards for his musical scores yet none of his shows has had a Broadway run of longer than a few months. It's unfortunate, as Brown's music and lyrics are almost always exceptional. Last season he won two Tony Awards for his score and orchestrations for the musical The Bridges of Madison County. While that show only ran for three months in New York, a national tour of the show launched this past November and comes to Tempe for a week long run. Brown's score is lush and romantic and, even though the musical is long, somewhat repetitive, and slow going in parts, the touring cast is exceptional. Based on the bestselling novel by Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County is set in 1965 Iowa and focuses on the four-day affair between a lost and lonely Italian war bride whose family is away on a trip and the equally lost National Geographic photographer who comes to town to photograph the covered bridges in the area. ...Marsha Norman's book for the show follows the plot of Waller's novel fairly closely and she instills her dialogue with a freshness and a perfect Midwest America sensibility. Brown's score is sensational, featuring a combination of operatic soaring songs along with bluegrass and country flavors. However, it is a ballad heavy score so there are several similar sounding songs as well as a few for the supporting characters that slow the plot down. With a running time of over two and a half hours it could be tightened, with some of the songs cut or trimmed, and have an even more lasting impact. The cast for the national tour is excellent. Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky are Francesca and Robert and both have superb voices that bring an emotional connection to Brown's succinct lyrics. Both characters are similar—lost in their current lives and looking for something but unsure what it is—and the connection they have for each other is immediate and the heat they generate is palpable...The staging for the dramatic scenes and the movement work very well together to tell the story and move the plot along. Especially effective is how the ensemble is used to not only move the various set pieces around as the scenes change but also in how at many times they are on the sides and at the back of the stage, seated, while the more dramatic moments unfold. These elements add a theatricality to the piece while also giving the sense that the people surrounding Francesca's life in Iowa are always present, so her responsibilities are always felt. The ensemble also adds a soaring choral voice to several of the musical numbers. The creative elements, all of which are modeled on the Broadway designs, are excellent. ... While this musical isn't perfect, the end result still evokes a deep feeling of romance with two interesting and intriguing characters and a cast who is able to do justice to Brown's music."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

--Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

-Jennifer Haaland, (click here to read the complete review)

"“The Bridges of Madison County” is a book beloved by hopeless romantics and derided by those who are allergic to mushy sentimentality...The novel’s reputation precedes it. Broadway’s musical adaptation...doesn’t exactly overturn that reputation. ...On a plain stage dominated by a wind-gnarled tree, the show opens with the lonely low moan of a single cello as our heroine, Francesca (Elizabeth Stanley) sings of her life as an Italian war bride in the American heartland in “To Build a Home.” ...Robert (Andrew Samonsky), a National Geographic photographer and “old soul” loner. He’s looking for directions to one of the area’s famed covered bridges, and Francesca, with her husband and two children away at the national 4-H fair, doesn’t so much throw caution to the wind as merely nudge it aside to climb into his pickup. The dramatic beats of their ensuing affair, a gentle sort of whirlwind romance, are fairly predictable, but then this incarnation of “Bridges” does something surprising, overlaying the central story with glimpses into the lives of Francesca’s family and neighbors....Filled with rich, flowing ballads, “Bridges” is far from the whiz-bang bombast of most Broadway shows...Stanley..., acting with nuance and singing in crystalline soprano – and, in a rarity in musical theater, sticking with her Italian accent when she does. Samonsky’s warm tenor and subtle twang is a perfect match for his character. It’s a tribute to these actors’ talent, as well as to Brown’s, that their voices blend so seamlessly in their duets. It all adds up to a ravishingly beautiful musical that, as it winds toward its bittersweet climax, just might coax a tear or two from the most cynical anti-romantics in the audience."  - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"Warm and golden. Flat and tranquil. A field of grain sweeps across Iowa's plain. A motif, frozen for a moment in time and accentuated by Jason Robert Brown's soaring lyrical melodies and the ascendance of unexpected love. As a series of brilliantly framed montages defines the landscape of one family's life in a place aptly named Winterset, a whirlwind of passion upsets this bucolic balance that is the setting of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Elizabeth Stanley and Andrew Samonsky are electrifying as the star-crossed lovers, Francesca and Robert, who challenge the boundaries of fidelity in this magnificent and moving musical. ...All the loving while, in one of the most tender twists of the story, Francesca is under the watchful eye of her eavesdropping neighbor Marge, played with verve by Mary Callanan. (Callanan's version of Get Closer is a show-stopper!)
Tyne Rafaeli has excelled in recreating Bartlett Sher's original direction and staging a powerful and technically flawless production. She is blessed ~ and so is the audience ~ with a spectacular cast."  -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

1 comment:

  1. The score and orchestration were lovely but the biggest disappointment, again, was the poor sound system at the Gammage. I could understand only 20% of Stanley's lyrics. Her choice to sing with her Italian accent may work in other venues but not at the Gammage.