PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With The Bridges of Madison County Writer Marsha Norman

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14 Feb 2014

Marsha Norman
Marsha Norman
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman, who last adapted Alice Walker's The Color Purple for the Broadway stage, returns this season with the new musical incarnation of another literary phenomenon, James Waller's 1992 romantic novel The Bridges of Madison County, which officially opens on Broadway Feb. 20 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

Featuring a score by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (Parade, Songs for a New World, The Last Five Years) and staged by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher (The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific, Golden Boy), the new musical stars four-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O'Hara (The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific, Nice Work If You Can Get It) and Steven Pasquale (Reasons to Be Pretty, Far From Heaven, "Rescue Me") as Francesca and Robert, the two characters central to Waller's story of love and longing.

Norman, a Pulitzer winner for her dramatic two-hander 'night Mother, is also the Tony Award-winning book writer of The Secret Garden and was Tony-nominated for the book of The Color Purple. spoke with Norman about her work on The Bridges of Madison County, which expands the scope of Waller's original novel to include a broader tapestry of characters and context.

How did this project begin? Was the book initially something that you wanted to adapt?
Marsha Norman: No, it began with a phone call. A phone call from James Lapine. And James said that he had received a phone call from Aaron Priest, [the literary agent] for the book, asking James if he wanted to write the book for a musical version of "[The] Bridges of Madison County." James said, "Oh no, you really don't want me, you want Marsha Norman." So, Aaron Priest talks to me and says that he's looking for someone and would I like to do it? I mean, I had already said yes, of course.

I'm not saying that all the classic love stories would make a good musical, like "Gone With the Wind," but I knew this one would. So Jason [Robert Brown] had also been wanting to write something like La Traviata, where two lovers can sing, and sing, and sing and sing. So, it seemed to fit all of our needs. I needed a book that needed me to flesh it out and make a story out of it from Francesca's point of view, whereas the original book tells the story from Robert's point of view. Jason loved the opportunity to just speak in a different musical language — the language of Iowa, the language of love, the language of of soul mates meeting, the language of the kids and the father and all that, so he was looking for new vocabulary. It was perfect for us.

Moreso than the novel, there's a strong sense of community in your account of Bridges. This love affair is always in public view.
MN: You're going to see that onstage all the time. The community is always watching. It's important to realize early on that Robert and Francesca didn't go off to some Motel 6 in the next state. They were right there in Francesca's house for four days, with all of the community there watching. His truck was parked in the back. It's a completely different thing than going to a convention and having a fling. This is a place where community matters, and we had to take that into account and that was fun.


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