The Bridges of Madison County
The Bridges of Madison County the musical, based on Robert James Waller’s 1992 novel, with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. The musical premiered on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on February 20, 2014, and closed on May 18, 2014. The Broadway production was directed by Bartlett Sher and starred Kelli O’Hara as Francesca and Steven Pasquale as Robert. Brown’s work on the musical won the 2014 Tony Awards for “Best Original Score” and “Best Orchestrations” after the Broadway production had already closed.
Back Story and Productions
The Bridges of Madison County originated at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and ran from August 1 to August 18, 2013. The musical was directed by Bartlett Sher, with scene design by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lighting by Donald Holder, sound by Jon Weston, and produced by Stacey Mindich. The cast featured Steven Pasquale (Robert), Elena Shaddow (Francesca), Daniel H. Jenkins (Bud), Nick Bailey (Michael), Caitlin Kinnunen (Carolyn), Cass Morgan (Marge), Michael X. Martin (Charlie), Whitney Bashor (Marian/Chiara), John Paul Almon, Jennifer Allen, Emma Duncan, Luke Marinkovich, Laura Shoop, and Tim Wright.
The musical opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in previews on January 17, 2014, and officially on February 20, 2014. The creative team remained the same, with additional credits for Hair and Wig design by David Brian Brown and Make-Up Design by Ashley Ryan.
The original cast featured Pasquale, Bashor, Martin, Marinkovich, Morgan, Allen, and Kinnunen reprising their roles. The new cast members were Kelli O’Hara as Francesca, Hunter Foster as Bud, Derek Klena as Michael, Ephie Aardema, Katie Klaus, Aaron Ramey, and Dan Sharkey.
O’Hara had been originally announced to appear in the Williamstown production, but because she expected her second child in September 2013, Elena Shaddow played Francesca instead.
The musical closed on May 18, 2014, after 137 performances.
A recording of the original Broadway cast was recorded at Avatar Studios and released in April 2014 (digital) and May 2014 (CD) on the Ghostlight label featuring an 11-piece orchestra from the original Broadway production.
A US National tour, incorporating some minor changes, was announced by producers after the closing of the Broadway production. The tour began on November 28, 2015 at the Des Moines Civic Center in Des Moines, Iowa, with Brown conducting. Additional stops include the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, California (starting December 8, 2015), the Hobby Center in Houston, Texas, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC (June–July 2016). The tour stars Elizabeth Stanley as Francesca and Andrew Samonsky as Robert. The tour ends in Greenville, South Carolina, in July 2016.
The international premiere of the musical will be staged in Manila, the Philippines by Manila-based Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group. It will run from November 20, 2015 until December 6 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. The production stars Joanna Ampil as Francesca and Mig Ayesa as Robert. It will be directed by Bobby Garcia, with choreography by Cecil Martinez, musical direction by Ceejay Javier, scenic design by Faust Peneyra, costumes by Eric Pineda, and lighting by Jonjon Villareal.
In December it was announced that there will be a Dutch production in June 2017. It will play a limited run in ‘Het Zonnehuis’ in Amsterdam. Starring René van Kooten, Lone van Roosendaal, Annick Boer, Bas Heerkens, Jeroen C. Molenaar and Marieke Goemans. This production will be revived in late June, early July 2018 at the DeLaMar Theatre and will receive a tour in the spring and summer of 2019. In the DeLaMar Production Bas Heerkens is recplaced by Ad Knippels and the children of the Johnsons will be played by Joost van der Aa en Charlotte van der Plas.
The Boston professional premiere of the musical was staged by the Speakeasy Stage Company from May 6, 2017 – June 3. Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara, it starred Jennifer Ellis, Christiaan Smith, Alessandra Valea, Nick Siccone, Christopher Chew, and Kerry Dowling.
Utah Repertory Theater Company staged the Utah state premiere production November 25-December 10, directed by Utah Rep Artistic Director Johnny Hebda and company member Chase Ramsey, at the Regent Street Black Box inside the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah, the first musical production in this venue. Stars Erin Royall Carlson as Francesca and Kevin Goertzen as Robert, with musical direction by Jeanne McGuire.
Francesca Johnson, an Italian war bride living in Winterset, Iowa in 1965, has had eighteen years of quiet, largely unfulfilling farm life (“To Build a Home”). Her family—stoic husband Bud, rebellious son Michael, and reluctant daughter Carolyn—are journeying to Indianapolis for three days to the national 4-H fair to show Carolyn’s prize steer, Stevie (“Home Before You Know It”). After the family departs, Francesca is planning a relaxing weekend free from responsibilities. That afternoon, a blue pick-up truck pulls into her driveway carrying Robert Kincaid, a photographer for the National Geographic who has travelled from Washington State to photograph the famous covered bridges of Madison County. Robert is unable to find the seventh covered bridge, the Roseman Bridge, and Francesca agrees to accompany him to the bridge for a short scouting trip (“Temporarily Lost”). Once at the Roseman Bridge, Francesca feels something developing between her and Robert (“What Do You Call a Man Like That?”).
After they return to the Johnson farm, Francesca invites Robert for a glass of tea. Francesca—having discovered that Robert was recently in Naples, her hometown—is eager to see pictures of his trip. Robert does not have the pictures with him, but they discuss everyday life in the quiet of Winterset (“You’re Never Alone”). After realizing that it is too late for Robert to eat at one of the restaurants in town, Francesca persuades Robert to stay for a supper of homegrown vegetables and one of the recipes that Francesca brought with her from Italy. Francesca’s neighbors—Charlie and Marge, an older couple who are firmly entrenched in the farm life of Winterset—see Robert and his truck at Francesca’s home and speculate about his being there. Robert—whose hippy presence has caused some commotion in the town—prepares dinner with Francesca. At the farm, Francesca asks about the guitar that Robert has brought into the house, as well as its former owner, Robert’s ex-wife, Marian (“Another Life”). While cooking, Robert and Francesca share a drink of a long-neglected bottle of brandy. After a dinner where both Robert and Francesca have clearly established a connection, Robert leaves in order to shoot the Roseman Bridge at dawn the next morning. Afterward, both contemplate their shared evening together. While Robert thinks about the dinner with Francesca (“Wondering”), Francesca receives a telephone call from Bud, during which she confides that she has opened the brandy that she had been saving—it had been up there long enough.
The next day, while Robert is composing the photograph at the Roseman Bridge, Francesca shops for a new dress (“Look at Me”). Realizing that Robert has awoken a feeling within her that she has not felt since she left Italy, she goes to the Roseman Bridge in search of him. At the bridge, Robert explains to her the process of composing a meaningful photograph (“World Inside a Frame”). Robert then gives Francesca the copy of the National Geographic featuring the photographs that he took of the post-war reconstruction in Naples. Francesca reveals that her fiancé, Paolo, was killed during the war, and she tearfully describes how her life in Naples corresponds to the photographs that Robert took. Realizing that their connection is more significant than she had initially believed, Francesca again invites Robert to clean up and dine at the farm.
While Robert is cleaning up, Francesca receives a call from Bud: Carolyn’s steer has reached the final and they are staying another day at the fair. Francesca is disoriented from her interactions with Robert and Bud. While Bud celebrates Carolyn’s victory in the nearest bar and reflects on his relationship with Franny (“Something from a Dream”), Francesca bathes and prepares for her dinner with Robert. After Robert waits in the kitchen, Francesca comes downstairs in the pink dress that she bought that day. Finally alone with Robert and the implications of the time that they have shared, Francesca asks Robert if this is what always happens when he wanders into a town—she has bought a new dress and invited him in and everything is about to change for them. Robert asserts that he never steps into a world where people belong to each other and that he never intended for their relationship to go this far. They kiss, but are interrupted by a phone call from Marge. Marge asks Francesca to make plans the next day, but Francesca tells Marge that she already has plans to go to Des Moines. After the call, Robert and Francesca dance in the kitchen to the radio (“Get Closer”), and then realize that, while both unknowingly searching for a connection, they have found each other (“Falling into You”). After their dance, Francesca leads Robert upstairs to her bedroom.
At the 4-H national fair, Carolyn worries about Stevie the steer, and Michael fights with Bud (“State Road 21”). Meanwhile, at the farm, Robert is in bed with a still sleeping Francesca (“Who We Are and Who We Want to Be”). While preparing for their trip to Des Moines, Francesca explains to Robert how she came to live on an Iowa farm (“Almost Real”). Meanwhile, Charlie and Marge—having seen Robert’s truck at Francesca’s home the whole night before—know that they have spent the night together.
After their day in Des Moines and with Francesca’s family due home the next day, Francesca and Robert discuss their plans for the future. He asks her to leave Winterset with him, and she considers the reality of leaving her family behind (“Before and After You”/”One Second and a Million Miles”). Waking late the next morning, Robert again asks Francesca to come away with him; he is leaving Winterset at six o’clock and she must meet him in town before then. As he sets off for town, she tearfully promises to meet him. Later in the afternoon, Bud, Michael, and Carolyn arrive back at the farm and Francesca welcomes her family home. Bud asks what she has prepared for dinner, and Francesca immediately faces the realities of her life. Preoccupied, she constantly checks her watch while unsuccessfully attempting to say her goodbyes to a frustrated Michael, to a devoted Carolyn, and to a misunderstanding Bud. Francesca is worrying about dinner when Marge shows up, lasagna in hand; she realizes her affair is known to Marge, who has no intention of outing her to Bud. Marge comforts a distraught and uncertain Francesca. While Michael and Carolyn fight in their room, Francesca attempts to tell Bud about her affair and asserts to him that she needs more from their relationship—she cannot go on feeling so alone.
Francesca then breaks up an argument between Bud and Michael. Attempting to ease the tension and with Francesca still in search of Robert, the whole family heads into town. Carolyn asks Francesca about the man staring at them from afar—it is Robert, waiting for Francesca to join him and leave the small Iowa town behind. Francesca—desperate and overcome—runs to Robert, but it is nothing more than a fantasy. Francesca is caught between the love of her life and the love of her family. She decides to stay with her children and her husband. Francesca and Robert, both devastated by the impossibility of their situation, exchange a final look before heading their separate ways.
In the subsequent years, Carolyn marries and has a child, Michael graduates from medical school, and Charlie and Bud both succumb to illness, leaving Francesca and Marge alone (“When I’m Gone”). After Bud’s funeral, Francesca thanks Marge for her unspoken support throughout the years. Once Francesca is alone in her now empty home, the telephone rings. No one is on the other end, but she clearly wonders if it could be Robert, even so many years later.
Robert, now an older man himself, calls the offices of the National Geographic to inform them that he will no longer be shooting photographs due to an illness of his own. He thanks his secretary for helping him wait for Francesca’s call, which never came. Alone in his home, he packs all of his belongings save one letter, and reminisces about his time with Francesca and the following years that they have spent apart (“It All Fades Away”). In her own home, Francesca considers calling Robert, but instead looks through the National Geographic featuring the pictures of the Roseman Bridge. She finally takes the long-saved bottle of brandy off the shelf.
Francesca comes to the Roseman Bridge, letter in hand. Inside, she finds the photograph Robert took of her on the bridge, as well as a letter stating that he has died. He tells her that he understands why she made the choice that she did, and that her love for her family was part of his love for her. She tearfully considers the path that brought them together and ultimately separated them, but regrets neither her affair with him nor her choice to stay with her family. In their final moments, Robert and Francesca—appearing as they were when they first fell in love—embrace on the Roseman Bridge (“Always Better”).
According to Playbill, the critical reviews were divided. Although the musical had “admirers who responded to Brown’s score that mixed folk, country, pop and operatic passages, it failed to ignite wide audience appeal at the box office.”
Awards and Nominations
The Bridges of Madison County received nine 2014 Drama Desk Award nominations: Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Steven Pasquale), Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Kelli O’Hara), Outstanding Director of a Musical (Bartlett Sher), Outstanding Music (Jason Robert Brown), Outstanding Lyrics (Jason Robert Brown), Outstanding Book of a Musical (Marsha Norman), Outstanding Orchestrations (Jason Robert Brown) and Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical (Jon Weston). Brown won for Outstanding Orchestrations and Outstanding Music.
The musical received two nominations for the 2014 Outer Critics Circle Awards: Outstanding New Score (Broadway or Off-Broadway) and Outstanding Actress In A Musical (O’Hara).
The musical was nominated for three 2014 Drama League Awards: Outstanding Production Of A Broadway Or Off-Broadway Musical and Distinguished Performance Award (Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale).
The musical received four 2014 Tony Award nominations: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Kelli O’Hara); Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre (Jason Robert Brown) (music and lyrics); Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Donald Holder); Best Orchestrations (Jason Robert Brown). The musical won awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations for Jason Robert Brown.
Original Broadway Production
|2014||Tony Award||Best Original Score||Jason Robert Brown||Won|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Kelli O’Hara||Nominated|
|Best Lighting Design of a Musical||Donald Holder||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Music||Jason Robert Brown||Won|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Bartlett Sher||Nominated|
|Outstanding Book of a Musical||Marsha Norman||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Steven Pasquale||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Kelli O’Hara||Nominated|
|Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical||Jon Weston||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding New Score||Jason Robert Brown||Won|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Kelli O’Hara||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Outstanding Production of a Musical||Nominated|
|Distinguished Performance||Kelli O’Hara||Nominated|
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