The Bridges of Madison County, Book by Marsha Norman, Music & Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, Directed by Bartlett Sher, Starring Kelli O’Hara and Kevin Kern at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. [CLICK HERE FOR OFFICIAL SITE AND TICKETS]
Fair and full disclosure: I think Jason Robert Brown is an under-appreciated genius. If the world were in any way fair, the arrival of a new musical by Mr. Brown would occasion the fireworks and media coverage akin to a SuperBowl or summer blockbuster super-hero film. He would be heralded and showered with accolades and his songs would be heard everywhere, twenty-four hours a day. His music is never less than stunning, its melodies and leaps both surprising and inevitable, completely new and still speaking a soul language that is ancient, and those lyrics; holy mother of all that is holy, those lyrics so breathtakingly – make – you – gasp truthful that it is clear he is channeling the pain and love and light from the universal heart and soul of experience we all share. He is ridiculously brilliant, prodigiously gifted, a blessing.
I defy you to listen to the following song without being moved, without wanting to see this musical with its score full of such glorious, soaring, romantic, achingly true and beautiful songs. Listen:
And Kelli O’Hara isn’t bad either. That voice. That acting. That (here I go again) truth. There was so much honesty in her performance, so much depth of fearless feeling. And, THAT VOICE. I am not usually a fan of sopranos but THAT VOICE. Her opening aria, To Build A House, very nearly brought down the house in which we all sat. The music soars and dips and builds and teases and tells us where she’s been and how she got there and where we are going and during the course of such a beautiful delivery of such a brilliant song we, the audience, are given the additional gift of glorious staging by a fantastic and committed ensemble on a phenomenally suggestive yet simple set that is stunningly lit.
I knew that I would love the music, but I had no idea how much I would adore and admire and marvel at everything in this show. The direction is fantastically evocative of what it is to live in a small town, what it is to love an impossible love, what it is to surrender that love because it would hurt others, and what it is to love beyond reason, outside of reality, and, too, to lose that love, to lose other loves, to lose one’s own self in the choices one has made.
And, holy crap, was I pissed when I got my program and it informed me that Steven Pasquale was out? Well, yes and no — full disclosure again — I have LONG been stalking Laura Benanti, and I’d been feeling guilty that I was going to see her ex-husband in a show. So, I didn’t. I saw Kevin Kern — who is, forgive me, NOT an understudy, but, rather, the standby — and if Mr. Pasquale is any better an actor, any better a singer, any better looking in a pair of tight jeans and shirtless, any sexier with Kelli O’Hara — well then, it is a good thing I missed him, because as it was, by the time he was done singing his first song I was not only also in love with the character of Robert, but having to physically restrain myself from rushing the stage and wrapping myself around Mr. Kern’s legs, pleading with him to love me as his character loved Francesca — AND SING FOR ME 24 HOURS A DAY.
Holy shit. In case you couldn’t tell, I LOVED THIS SHOW.
Now, I have spent most of my life performing and directing and listening to and seeing and loving musicals and theatre, so, were there things I would have changed? Yes. But these were cavils and tiny complaints about decisions and choices made by people of such gargantuan talent that I say to myself, “What do I know?” For example, we were treated to Kelli O’Hara stepping out of a bathtub at the same time as Mr. Kern was off-stage in a shower. I wanted to see him in the shower. You see what I mean? It wasn’t, however, JUST that I wanted to see Mr. Kern naked (but I do, I really, REALLY do) but for dramaturgic reasons: as in, metaphorically both characters are cleansing themselves for the other, a baptism of sorts, a holy rite of readiness, and I felt we should either see both of them or neither of them doing so; to just see her made it somehow more important for her, and I don’t think the story works if that is the case. (See how I justified my hunger for naked singing actors? I was a HELL OF A director!) Too, it seemed somehow anachronistic to me that a teen boy was smoking marijuana at a state fair in 1965.
And, honestly, I never read the novel or saw the film of this story. It is NOT my kind of story, not really. I did not believe that you could make me believe a love story in which a few days would last a lifetime. But I did. And that I did is due to the book of Marsha Norman, the music and lyrics of Jason Robert Brown, the direction of Bartlett Sher (the brilliant conceit of the towns people always on stage and moving the set), and the acting of Kelli O’Hara (surely this will finally win her that Tony Award) and Kevin Kern and the rest of the cast.
Go. Now. At the very least, buy the CD.