Well…writing about The Bridges of Madison County so long after it’s closed and even after Jason Robert Brown winning two of his Tony Awards for it seems so wrong and anachronistic, but sometimes I’m a little slow with things and that’s why I really want to do it (because – as I have expressed multiple times already – I loved this show and I love the score so much!) and now is the time I finally get to it. So: Yeah.
First of all – I’m not the biggest fan of romance and romancy types of stuff. Novels, movies, TV shows – as long as it is pure romance there are only very fews ways to get me interested. And many people would put Bridges in the “pure romance” category – just briefly seen it’s just the story of a man and a woman falling in love and ‘finding the love of their lives’ and then need to ‘break up’ because she is married. And of course, cheating is a very sensitive topic to touch and the married one being the woman is even more complicated because woman (still) are expected to give most of what they have for their husband and kids, to their family. The German theatre performance group She She Pop even created a whole evening of theatrical performance about the sacrifices (their) mothers had to make in order to make their family work. Anyway.
Looking deeper into the show itself I find that there are so many ‘paintings’ layered on top of each other. Not only the music is layered in a way you can listen to it a million times and still finding things you never had heard before – I kid you not, I had a situation where I was listening to it non stop and suddenly was like: “Wait. Did that cello just play this? Had it played it before? No way it has – I would have had heard that earlier!” and then, of course, the cello always had played that way because it’s a recording. On a CD. And they don’t tend to change.
When I remember the two performances I was lucky enough to see on Broadway (and I even was lucky enough to have Jason Robert Brown conduct both of them…) I really like to think about it as a layered painting as well. Not only was the biggest part of the set, the backround, a somewhat old-school-ish painted backround. There was the Iowa-ian sky and fields. On that painting the lights painted emotions and day and night and day again. And eventually Francesca and Robert told their story and while telling it they painted pictures of all the other people: Of her husband Bud and her kids, of Marian, Robert’s former wife, of those who live close by Francesca and of her past in Italy and how she first came to America. Not only the script and the music tells everything through them but Kelli O’Hara (why didn’t she win the Tony?? Why didn’t she win ANY of the awards she was nominated for? WHY?) and Steven Pasquale actually spun this story in between their bodies and voices and their pure performances. Seeing it live on stage actually was like agreeing to it and committing to it in the first moments, following this solo cello along on this journey. This sounds very cheesy, but I swear there are theatre experiences like that, you agree, follow along and there’s no way out for you before the curtain call and for me Bridges definitely was one of those. And whenever they stuck to the story as told through Robert and Francesca it worked best for me. I’m still not very sure about the part the elderly couple next door plays in this story (of course they are more like the Bouffo-couple, the ones mirroring and foreshadowing in Francesca’s Iowian life) – they could work as ‘told’ by Francesca as well, actually, but then they do stuff and help her after she couldn’t bring herself to leave along with Robert.
I remember my family having slight problems with the song “When I’m gone” because somehow, if you don’t listen closely (maybe because of language problems, maybe because you are not fully paying attention…) it’s easy to miss that both of the man – Bud and Charlie die over the years. And I think it also might be because of the sudden change of narrator: Suddenly the husbands are telling the (their) story not – but only for one song, because afterwards: They are dead. And afterwards the old narration is re-established, Franscesca and Robert are kind of finishing their painting of their lives.
When I think about that show as a painting, of imagining things together and putting pieces into their places the directing was just that – it made people put together things on stage, building a home (see what I did here?) and a bigger picture.
I have a really bad feeling raving about the mode Bridges is written in and was shown in, and I definitely see some weak spots in the book like so many others pointed out – but I also have the feeling that so many people hard-core loved the show and so many people just thought it was boring and maybe got offended by the story of a woman cheating on her husband.
In the ‘About me’-section of this blog I quote Jennifer Ashley Tepper from her book “The Untold Stories of Broadway”. In this book she talks about Merrily We Roll Along and how much she loves it and how much she wishes she could have seen the original production (so do I after reading about it!) – and thinking about Bridges I feel it could be my Merrily. Only that I was fortunate enough to have seen it.