BY TAMARA BECK
EVER wonder how you wound up where you did?
In "The Bridges of Madison County," at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in an open run, the question may never have had to be asked but for a chance meeting.
Francesca (Kelli O'Hara) came to Iowa as a war bride from Naples. She married an American soldier, Bud (Hunter Foster), who soon exchanged his uniform for farmer's overalls. They settle into family life.
As the story opens, Bud and their two teenage children, Michael (Derek Klena) and Carolyn (Caitlin Kinnunen) are off the Indiana State Fair to show off Carolyn's prize steer.
Meanwhile, Robert Kincaid (Steven Pasquale) is on assignment for “National Geographic” to photograph the picturesque covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa. His work takes him to Francesca's driveway looking for directions to a bridge he has missed.
Francesca leads him to it. Afterward, she invites him to stay for supper. Unlike her friends, neighbors – and even her husband who all call her Franny – Robert calls her Francesca. He has recently shot a photo spread in Naples and he brings her a copy of the magazine. Robert reminds Francesca of home and she is homesick.
They talk, they laugh, they fall in love. (See video below).
The story, adapted by Marsha Norman from Robert James Waller's chick-lit novel, is pretty much 50 shades of rich color from blushing pink to deep purple. Jason Robert Brown has given it a lovely score and straight-ahead lyrics that support MN's book. In its musical adaptation, "The Bridges of Madison County" is as believable as, say, "Madame Butterfly" or "La Boheme."
If anyone can sell this "Bridges..." it is the players, KO'H, SP and HF. In an excellent cast and ensemble, directed by Bartlett Sher, there are also strong performances by Cass Morgan as Francesca's understanding neighbor, Marge, and Michael X. Martin as Marge's husband, Charlie.
JRB ventures off into country and torch songs, giving Whitney Bashor as Robert's ex-wife, Katie Klaus, as a state fair singer and the aforementioned CM show-stopping arias.
Michael Yeargan's scenery – with Iowa's flat country painted in the backdrop – is lovely and simple. The ensemble pulls and pushes furniture and fences into each scene change while window and roof frames fall gently from the eaves.
This iteration of "The Bridges of Madison County" is not as insufferably sentimental as its source material nor as schmaltzy as the film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. That's not to say, however, that "The Bridges of Madison County" the musical won't cause some to shed tears.
It is as much a pleasure to watch and hear as any musical theater work currently on the Great White Way.
Visit http://www.bridgesofmadisoncountymusical.com/ to learn more about "The Bridges of Madison County."