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A CurtainUp DC Review
The Bridges of Madison County

"What I did was love and love is always better."— Francesca.
The Bridges of Madison County, first a book then a movie, Broadway show and now a tour has a well-deserved reputation for being pure schmaltz, a sugar-overload. It is also known for its beautifully melodic score which justifiably won a Tony.

As Francesca, the Italian-born Midwest farmer's wife, Elizabeth Stanley gives a very strong performance with one serious fault+. Her accent which is supposed to be the sing-song lilt of a native to Naples (Italy, not Florida) sounds more like half-baked Swedish via South Jersey. It's a terrible distraction from the admittedly soppy lyrics that are sung with precise diction and intense emotion.

Francesca's husband, Bud, a cornpone farmer who brought his war bride home to wide open spaces and acute boredom, leaves home for a few days with his warring teenage kids for the State Fair, the highpoint of the year for Iowa farmers. Cullen R. Titmas as Bud has the hayseed's demeanor down pat and wrings every drop of pathos out of his solo in "When I'm Gone." The kids are also well cast: Caitlin Houlahan as the ungainly daughter whose ambition is to be a farmer and Bryan Welnicki whose determination to leave the farm for "something more" pays off.

The tone of Bridges changes measurably with the entrance of ... that old plot trick, a stranger ... Andrew Samonsky as Robert, a National Geographic photographer/divorced is seemingly unattached to any and all time and place. He's a loner looking for the perfect light in which to take the perfect shot. Metaphor! Samonsky's voice and musicality are particularly effecting when he is singing a cappella. Somehow he manages to overcome the gooiest lyrics. The melding of these two characters and their mellifluous voices are what make Bridges a pleasant evening . Particularly in their first act finale duet, "Falling Into You."

Two vignettes stand out: Mary Callanan's Marge the nosey neighbor's longing for an existence that included more romance and her husband Charlie (David Hess in fine voice) singing "When I'm Gone" But the show belongs to Francesca and Robert.

Donald Holder's lighting takes the flat lands from dawn to dusk in sympathic hues and silhouettes creating memorable images. Sets, or parts of sets are dropped from the flies or wheeled on stage from the wings. While interesting in the first act, all this coming and going of frames and props gets to be a bit much in the second.

For a list of the songs, see CurtainUp's Broadway review here .

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The Bridges Of Madison County
Based on the novel by Robert James Waller
Book: Marsha Norman
Music and lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Cast: Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca); Caitlin Houlahan (Carolyn) ; Bryan Welnicki (Michael); Cullen R. Titmas (Bud);Mary Callahan(Marge); David Hess (Charlie); Andrew Samonsky (Robert); Katie Klaus (Marian/Chiara/State Fair Singer; Brad Greer (Paolo); Cole Burden, Caitlyn Caughell, Brad Greer, Amy Linden, Trista Moldovan, Jessica Sheridan, Matt Stokes, Tom Treadwell (Ensemble).
Sets: Michael Yeargan
Costumes:Catherine Zuber
Lighting:Donald Holder 
Sound: Jon Weston 
Music Supervisor: Tom Murray
Orchestrations: Jason Robert Brown
Movement: Danny Mefford
Dance Captain: Lucy Horton
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes including intermission
Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, Washington, DC; June 28 to July 17, 2016
Review by Susan Davidson of June 30, 2016 performance.

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