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Review Roundup: ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

The Bridges of Madison County, the musical based on Robert James Waller’s best-selling 1992 novel, opened Feb. 20 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific, The Pajama Game) and Steven Pasquale (reasons to be pretty, Rescue Me) star. Hunter Foster (Hands on a Hard Body, Million Dollar Quartet), Cass Morgan (Memphis, Pump Boys and Dinettes) and Michael X. Martin (Nice Work If You Can Get It) are also in the cast.

The score is by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown (Parade, 13, The Last Five Years) and the book is penned by Pulitzer Prize and Tony winner Marsha Norman (’night, Mother, The Secret Garden). Tony winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Awake and Sing, Golden Boy) directs. The musical premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Mass. last summer. Did the critics fall in love with the romantic show? Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

'The Bridges of Madison County' curtain call (Photo: Walter McBride/Getty Images)

‘The Bridges of Madison County’ stars, including Steven Pasquale, Kelli O’Hara and Hunter Foster at the curtain call (Photo: Walter McBride/Getty Images)

Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“I am happy to say that Ms. O’Hara more than keeps the promises made by her interpretation of that first song, one of many sumptuous pieces that feel as if they had been written specifically for her by the show’s composer, Jason Robert Brown. She also confirms her position as one of the most exquisitely expressive stars in musical theater…. True, the rest of the show, directed by Bartlett Sher with a script by Marsha Norman, isn’t nearly as multidimensional. Though Ms. O’Hara has a lust-worthy leading man in Steven Pasquale, most of what surrounds her has the depth of a shiny picture postcard, one that bears a disproportionately long and repetitive message.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Robert James Waller’s 1992 romantic best-seller The Bridges of Madison County and the Meryl Streep-Clint Eastwood movie it spawned struck many as sappy—but Broadway’s lush musical version is grown-up and plain old-fashioned beautiful. The stage adaptation by Jason Robert Brown (Parade) and Marsha Norman (’night Mother) is a familiar, yet stylish tale that earns its tears. And it’s never sappy.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“The prospect of a musical version of The Bridges of Madison County was scary—yes, even more so than a singing and dancing Rocky. That’s because Broadway tuners can easily skid into sticky, stinky cheese, even without source material as cloying as Robert James Waller’s 1992 tear-jerker of a novel….Happily, that’s not the case. Bartlett Sher’s production, which opened Thursday night, is merely a mixed bag, one in which cringe-inducing bits alternate with moments of musical-theater nirvana. Despite the trepidation around her casting, all of the grace notes have to do with O’Hara. Not only does she deliver a finely tuned performance, but she also inspired composer Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years) to new heights.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“The Iowa featured in the new musical The Bridges of Madison County is flat indeed but, oh boy, the voices soar. Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale come just short of blowing the roof off the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in this touching doomed romance that features a superb, thrilling score by Jason Robert Brown.”

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York
“The musical’s emotion is unapologetically grand, and its love duets have a wide, old-fashioned scope. Directed with spare precision by Bartlett Sher—reunited with his most of his South Pacific design team­—it’s a new work that plays like a classic.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“Fussy direction and design choices and cumbersome book scenes crowd the central couple, but the gorgeous voices and thoughtful characterizations of Kelli O’Hara and Stephen Pasquale in those roles help counter the weaknesses of this problematic romantic musical.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“Everybody knows that playwrights shouldn’t direct their own plays. But composers might also think twice about doing their own orchestrations. In an intimate house, Jason Robert Brown’s lushly melodic score for The Bridges of Madison County would seem a proper fit for Marsha Norman’s book, which is gushy but more literate than Robert James Waller’s mawkish 1992 novella about soulful lovers in a hopeless adulterous affair. But although Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale are in glorious voice as this passionate pair, the bombastic orchestrations and Bartlett Sher’s overstated helming inflate the production into some quasi-operatic beast that thinks it’s Aida.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“It helps that Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years) has written a lush and deeply romantic score, filled with rich and melodic duets that show off its leads’ terrific voices — their second act rafter-shaker ”One Second & a Million Miles” is destined to become a cabaret staple. The tunes help compensate for Marsha Norman’s more problematic book, which stumbles whenever the spotlight isn’t on Francesca and Robert. The story has no real villains, or even antagonists, to work up a plot worth sustaining for 2 hours and 45 minutes.”

Steven Suskind, Huffington Post
“The attributes of The Bridges of Madison County, the new musical at the Schoenfeld, are vibrant and most welcome: the strong singing/acting performances of Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale; the score from Jason Robert Brown, at his lushest and most radiant; and. . . well, the performances of O’Hara and Pasquale. Here we have a musical which in its finest moments offers the sort of robustly romantic Broadway-style singing–and writing–that brings to mind such treasures as Carousel and The Most Happy Fella….The trouble comes not from the core of the musical but from the fleshing out of the adaptation.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“As devised by its creators, this slow, static and quiet adaptation of Robert James Waller’s bestselling romance novel, which was previously adapted into a hit film with no less than Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, is a snooze and a misfire…. Songwriter Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, Parade) skews psychologically inward with an overload of confessional ballads. He utilizes soft country-folk rock sounds and an operatic structure and ultimately produces a score with no spark or theatricality.”


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