ON THE RECORD: The Bridges of Madison County

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04 May 2014

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale
Photo by Joan Marcus

The final two songs take place years after the pair's four days together. Robert sums up his life with "It All Fades Away But You," yet another absolute stunner. (When Pasquale sings these songs in the theatre, the notes and the words and his voice cut through you in a way we haven't much experienced since the days of Drake, Raitt and Kiley.) Francesca ends the show with the anthemic "Always Better," in which she weighs her decision not to leave her family, concluding that, "What I did is that I loved — and love is always better."

There are two other major numbers along the way. "Almost Real" is a flashback to Francesca's life in Italy, when she "dreamed of a flat in Sienna on the market square" but life and war intervened. This is an extended sequence, somewhat like the "Count Ludovic of Austria" sequence in Sondheim's Passion, and it is exquisite. Elsewhere, there is a song for Robert's ex-wife Marian (Whitney Bashor), a character arguably shoehorned into the show; she does nothing else, just comes on, sings the song, and leaves. "Another Life" is remarkably good, though; if the character doesn't have a place in the story, the song thematically fits and enhances the show. Brown's talent at word-image is very much in evidence here; the ex-wife sees herself as "a woman wearing four years of confusion like a scar."

Certain elements of The Bridges of Madison County are not quite so successful as the songs for the two leading characters, but that's a discussion for another time and place. Brown's work is a major achievement of uncommon quality and should not be overlooked. As I was preparing this column, I paid another visit to Bridges on a blustery late April eve. The show played considerably better than it had at the preview I attended, while the two stars remained remarkably good. The CD, as you can garner from this report, earns my high recommendation. To those of you who have the opportunity to get over to the Schoenfeld, let me add that the combined power of Brown's score and O'Hara & Pasquale's singing is something that people who love musical theatre ought not miss. [As this column was about to go on-line, it was announced that The Bridges of Madison County will close May 18 after 137 performances.]

Brown has another musical waiting in the wings, as it were: Honeymoon in Vegas, which was highly acclaimed in its tryout last October at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. Honeymoon has a grand, musical comedy score; who knew that Brown could write so funny? It seems an odds-on favorite, in Vegas-speak, that the show will come to Broadway as soon as a suitable theatre can be cleared and prove a major crowd-pleaser (and a lucrative winner for the composer). But The Bridges of Madison County is his own personal Carousel.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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