A romance novel turned into a movie turned into a Broadway musical. Music by fan of Philadelphia Jason Robert Brown (The Last 5 Years, 13, Parade) and book by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Marsha Norman (‘night Mother), The Bridges of Madison County opened last night at Philadelphia Theatre Company.
Speaking as a 40-something female who loves a good romance, this played out like a steamy episode of a late-night soap opera. Haphazard book but some captivating performances where you simply can’t look away. It’s more embellished fantasy than romance. Husband and kids go out of town to the county fair, steamy hot man drops by to take pictures for National Geographic, takes off his shirt, lonely housewife compelled to look, a few days affair ensues, woman falls in love. Who will she choose?
The central character, Italian-bred Francesca, as gorgeously portrayed by Philadelphia’s own Sarah Gilko, easily represents female strength and empowerment even though she breaks her vows. She is the only three-dimensional character remotely flushed out while her family that includes her husband Bud (Scott Guthrie), son Michael (Kevin John Murray), and daughter Carolyn (Georgianna Summers) play out country bumpkin caricatures. Travelling photographer Robert, is perfectly cast with Gregg Goodbrod, the musical version of McSteamy from “Grey’s Anatomy.” Sure, he’s physically handsome and brooding, but his voice is velvet and would win any female over in “one second.” This wouldn’t be the first time I was accused of having leading man syndrome! Playing the Fred & Ethel nosy neighbors to Bud and Francesca are Philly favorite Greg Wood as Charlie and comic relief Barbara McCulloh as Marge, dressed similarly to icon Lucille Ball. Rounding out this eclectic bunch was another Philebrity, Rachel Camp, adorning some stellar wigs playing every character under the sun but shining as Robert’s ex-wife Marian.
Despite the schmaltz, there is something quiet poetic about this piece. Director Mark Martino wrote in his director’s note that he wanted the audience to take-away a story about rediscovering lost parts of yourself as well as choices you make in the crossroads of your life. What I took away was how we often see stories of a man stepping out on a woman, but this time the roles were reversed. That a woman can have control of her body and make decisions for herself. That a man can ASK a woman for consent prior to pursuing a sexual affair. That a woman can succumb to her needs without shame. That at the end of the day, the woman will continue to make selfless decisions for the sake of all others. Every song Francesca sings is sung to the audience. It’s factual. She’s not asking, she’s telling.
PTC continues to bring Broadway quality production values to the city. A captivating scenic design from Paul Tate dePoo III that was both innovative, clever, and practical. Effective lighting design from Elizabeth Mak both romantic and realistic. Clean and crisp sound design from David Thomas that also allowed for a dynamic balance between singer and orchestra. Which leads me to the impeccable Amanda Morton (Music Director) and her impressive orchestra. Anything Morton’s name is attached to musically you know it’s going to be gold. On top of it all, Artistic Director Paige Price is making tireless strides to rebuild PTC and make it more inclusive and affordable to ALL people! Although The Bridges of Madison County was a risky choice based on its Broadway run, it seems like a natural progression for PTC in expanding their footprint.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that a female run theatre company chose a female driven musical with at least 50% of its creative team being women. Therefore, get your tickets NOW to Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of The Bridges of Madison County running at the stunning Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Broad St. (something poetic about that too!) now through March 3rd.