The Bridges of Madison County opened Feb. 20 at the Schoenfeld with all the fanfare and photo-op frenzy generally accorded a bridge opening — which is to say none at all. All that had occurred the night before at the last preview when the stars came out for a nice look-see and then went into a hardy wind-down at the Hard Rock Cafe.
"It was fun," according to the musical's director, Bartlett Sher, and other accounts. Alan Alda, Jonathan Groff, Zosia Mamet, Brooke Shields, David Hyde Pierce and Bethenny Frankel were said to have tread the red carpet, and, although it was the company's second show of the day, they seem to have pushed themselves through to an enthusiastic reception from friends, fans and celebrities in the packed house.
The real opening night was a rather subdued affair, certainly in contrast, but first-nighters were unsparing in their appreciation and standing, applauding, at the end. Why the switch? Producer Jeffrey Richards put out a release to the effect that Robert James Waller, author of the bestseller the musical is based on, could only make it on Feb. 19 — yet there he was the next night in all his silver-haired glory, taking a curtain-call bow with Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale.
Not only was the place of the opening-night party not known, the fact that there even was one was lost in the ether as well. "Party," perhaps, is too strong a word. The cast congregated, as if it were a regular call, for a symbolic "champagne toast."
This was held — now it can be told — at Sofia Italian Grill, recently relocated to 42 West 48th Street from its home for many decades at the Hotel Edison. It was at that location that Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) had his last drink in "The Godfather," was garroted and dumped in the river to, as we say in Old Sicily, "sleep with the fishes."
Sofia is also where "Godfather" director-adaptor Francis Ford Coppola found the name of his next-born. Now, Sofia Coppola is splashed across the screen as a film director. The man with the original moniker — Frank Sofia — stood at the reception desk, imposing and mustachioed, to welcome all the Bridges players and producers.
The Bridges of Madison County asks the musical question, 'Is a four-day romantic freefall in late August of '65 enough to last a lifetime?' — this, the accidental meeting and mating of a National Geographic photographer from Washington state and an Iowa housewife transplanted from Italy — and answers it in the resounding affirmative with soaring songs from Jason Robert Brown, seconding it with a supportive text from Marsha Norman. Their last note on the subject — a genuinely affecting 11 o'clock number called "[Love Is] Always Better" — ties it all up in a bow.
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