The Bridges of Madison County – Review by Marlene Gaylinn

Music Theatre of Connecticut (MTC) begins its 2017-18 season with “The Bridges of Madison County” — a poignant, love story that was originally based on the novel by Robert James Waller, and made into an award-winning film. Marsha Norma wrote this play version with music by composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown.

While there are some changes, the basic plot is about a forbidden love affair between a farmer’s wife, “Francesca” (Juliet Lambert Pratt) and a transient photographer for “National Geographic” named “Robert” (Sean Hayden). The original story began with two adult children preparing for their mother’s funeral and coming across her strange wishes to have her ashes thrown under the local bridge. Their plan was to bury her alongside their father’s grave, but when they investigate further, they learn about their mother’s secret affair that occurred when they were young children. I happen to like this prologue. However, the play goes right into the story and makes the children into older, bickering teenagers. In our more liberal times, this makes the mother’s final decision less believable and not as touching.

It’s 1965 in the farm community of Winterset, Iowa. While Francesca’s family is attending a State Fair, Robert happens to drive by in order to seek directions to his latest assignment – photographing a local bridge. One thing leads to another and within the span of four days the couple falls deeply in love. This may sound like a familiar theme, however, the reason this particular story became so popular, is because it is well written. The characters are real, and their conflicts are easy to identify with in our modern society. In addition, the material gives you an idea of what it’s like to live in rural America, plus, an insight to these hard-working folk’s simple life, pleasures, hopes, dreams and whatever else they might look forward to – the same conflicts which remain today.

Under MTC’s Executive Artistic Director, Kevin Connors, we have a top-notch cast of performers headed by Juliet Lambert Pratt who plays the immigrant wife, “Francesca.” It seems to be a part that was just made for her expertise in Italian accent and mannerism. The actress is also full of emotion. We were moved by Pratt’s expressive voice in the opening number, “To Build a Home,” and noticed her genuine tears in the sorrowful, “Almost Real.” Handsome, Sean Hayden plays Francesca’s sensitive lover, “Robert.” Francesca’s husband, “Bud” (Greg Roderick) is an ex-GI and redneck farmer that exhibits an opposite personality than her lover.

The supporting actors are: Kirsti Carnahan, who plays “Marge,” the friendly neighbor, who can just about see the next farmhouse with binoculars, and Frank Mastrone is “Charlie,” Marge’s amiable husband. Special mention goes to Megan O’Callaghan “Carolyn,” the lively, singing cowgirl at the State Fair. Nolan Bonvouloir directs his four-piece ensemble through a combination of melodious and dissonant musical themes, and Diane Vanderkroef has designed some very lovely dresses of the period.

This is an intimate production that may make you laugh and cry at its very human portrayal of a segment of American society.