It’s no secret that I’m an ardent fan of Mr Jason Robert Brown. He possesses the unique ability to compose a rousing and heartfelt score (See Parade, Last Five Years). Although he’s received critical acclaim and awards for his music, his shows haven’t had much luck in enjoying a healthy run on Broadway.
When Bridges of Madison County first premiered in New York to mixed reviews and closed after three months, I was perplexed. I had fallen head over heels in love with the cast recording and had been moved to tears by songs including ‘Always Better’ and ‘Falling Into You’. The meaning conveyed in the lyrics and in the music had such depth and emotion. I was dumbfounded as to how audiences hadn’t responded more positively to the show. Now having seen the UK premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory, I can now see perhaps why it was so short lived.
In this musical, directed by Trevor Nunn, we follow the Italian lady Francesca (Jenna Russell) who has created a life for herself as a housewife in Iowa with her husband and two young kids. Things take a turn as she meets a National Geographic Photographer, Robert (Edward Baker-Duly), whilst the rest of her family are out of the house at a county fair. A romantic affair thus ensues between Francesca and Robert.
To start with the positives, as I expected, the score is even more beautiful once heard live. The production design was surprisingly inventive and used projections to establish the various scenes in Iowa. Our lead performers Russell and Baker-Duly were brilliant. A special standout performance was delivered by Shanay Holmes in the very minor role of Robert’s ex-wife. Her voice was exquisite and perfectly suited the Joni Mitchell-esque song titled ‘Another Life’.
However, the production felt flat and extraordinarily dull. Time felt as if it stretched out for much longer than the stated 2 hour and 45-minute running time. I’m sure some audiences will disagree, but it didn’t feel like there was anything particularly exciting or compelling about the love affair which is quite crucial to a romantic love story. It pains me to say that the songs that I have grown intimately familiar with felt at times quite superfluous.
I went in expecting to love the show but left feeling underwhelmed. Perhaps it is one that is best enjoyed through listening to the cast recording end-to-end rather than seeing it live.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson