Review: ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ at the Media Theatre

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While there seems to be a never-ending stream of books or movies remade into musicals, few compare to 2014 Broadway musical The Bridges of Madison County. The book by Pulitzer Prize winning Marsha Norman works in tandem with the Tony Award winning score by the incomparable Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, Parade, 13). Based on the 1995 movie of the same title starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, The Bridges of Madison County answers the question: What choice do you make when you love too much?

Elisa Matthews (Francesca) and Derek Basthemer (Robert). Photo by Maura McConnell.
Elisa Matthews (Francesca) and Derek Basthemer (Robert). Photo by Maura McConnell.

The Bridges of Madison County tells the story of housewife Francesca’s 1965 Iowa farm life. While her family is away at the Indiana State Fair, Francesca’s life overlaps with the National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid, who has come to take pictures of the covered bridges.

Director Jesse Cline facilitates this love through the clarity in abstract yet constantly changing locations. His vision unites all of the production elements that specifically benefits in telling this story.

While the two leads didn’t share much chemistry in their dialogue, there was nothing but unbounding passion as soon as they began to sing. Elisa Matthews as Francesca has the vocal chops to sing the difficult score, and performs it with ease (and a believable Italian dialect, may I add). She opens the show with “To Build a Home,” which indeed begins to builds her world and the world of the play spectacularly.

Derek Basthemer as Robert sings these pieces as though Jason Robert Brown wrote them specifically for him. “It All Fades Away” not only suits his voice hugely, but invokes such emotion through the unbridled score. The two lovers wow with their duets especially, their voices blending magnificently in “Wondering” and “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles.”

Derek Basthemer (Robert) remembering Francesca. Photo by Maura McConnell.
Derek Basthemer (Robert) remembering Francesca. Photo by Maura McConnell.

Francesca’s family feels familiar to anyone from a small town. The audience sympathizes with hardworking farmer father and husband Bud, played by Robert Stineman, has great paternal chemistry with children Carolyn (Anna Rosenthal/Molly Sorenson) and Michael (Gianni Palmarini) as we see their adventures and turmoil through their mother’s whirlwind a state away. The trio’s grounded nature brings reality to the hyper-real show.

Francesca’s nosy neighbor Marge (Faith Yesner) adds some lighthearted comedy through her binocular stalking while singing, “Get Closer.” Add her husband Charlie (Nicholas Saverine) into the mix, and the two are both hilarious and real.

The cast is rounded out by Nick Saverine, Faith Yesner, Caroline Dooner, Marissa Wolner, CJ Celiero, JP Dunphy, Desiree Maira, and Sam Nagel.

Choreography by Dann Dunn gives further shape in the ebb and flow of the piece, creating striking stage pictures without over-choreographing.

Music direction by Christopher Ertelt brings Jason Robert Brown’s orchestrations to fruition, with his 7-person orchestra sounding much mightier than that. The orchestra includes Ryan Kiple (Violin), Set Rodriguez (Violin/Viola), Richard Jones (Violoncello), Jay Ansill (Guitar), Mike DiFebbo (Guitar), Shane Aaserud (Bass), Lee Morrison (Percussion), and Ertelt himself on piano.

Abstract set design by Kyle Brylczyk feels like a patchwork quilt; all of the individual pieces sitting on the stage throughout the show do not look cohesive at first, but the pieces get sewn together throughout the different scenes creating visually stunning images. The projections specifically help to transform the seemingly barren space, then transforming the space with images and videos.

A scene from the Iowa State Fair with singer Marissa Wolner. Photo by Maura McConnell.
A scene from the Iowa State Fair with singer Marissa Wolner. Photo by Maura McConnell.

Lighting design by Steven Spera helps shift the tone between song and dialogue, as well as through the different locations. Costume design by Jennifer Povish are equally period appropriate as well as appropriate for those living in Iowa. Francesca’s wardrobe, with its continual 1960’s silhouette throughout her wardrobe was specifically gorgeous and envious.

Don’t miss out on the regional premiere of this passion-filled Tony Award-winning production about two people in love.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

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The Bridges of Madison County plays through October 23, 2016 at The Media Theatre – 104 East State Street, in Media, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (610) 891-0100, or purchase them online.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is by far one of the very best shows, if not THE best on the stage of the Media Theater. Absolutely see this. You just must not miss this talent. Every single actor is phenomenal. I am going back again next week. I never read the book or saw the movie but somehow I think the music and these voices are the very best part of this show. Just mesmerising. If u live in Delco u must run over, especially.

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