Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 7, 2013

The Bridges of Madison County

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Willamstown, MA
through August 18, 2013
by Walt Haggerty

“Together we all make magical, memorable summertime bliss.” Those are the final words of Artistic Director Jenny Gersten’s opening letter to this summer’s audience at Williamstown Theatre Festival, and a perfect introduction to the final production of the season on the Festival’s Main Stage.

In “The Bridges of Madison County,” impeccably directed by Bartlett Sher, all of the values and forces of great theatre come together handsomely in a wonderful evening that reaches the highest level of professionalism, a hallmark of Williamstown productions.

From the opening notes of an incredible, to the single, full ensemble bow by the marvelous cast, the experience is exhilarating. In the program notes from a joint interview with book author, Marsha Norman and music and lyrics contributor, Jason Robert Brown, Brown commented, “What I wanted to write was like ‘La Traviata,’ where people sing with that much passion.” It is a pleasure to report that the pair has succeeded admirably.

While never imitative of Verdi, Brown’s score overflows with rich, glorious melody that begs to be heard again, and again. The score includes 22 numbers performed beautifully. The principal roles of Francesca and Robert, acted and sung magnificently by Elena Shaddow and Steven Pasquale, include a series of solos and duets, virtual arias in some cases, each performed with appropriate passion.

Every role has been cast perfectly. Daniel Jenkins is Bud, a husband who has taken too much for granted. The rambunctious teen-age children are exuberantly performed by Caitlin Kinnunen as Carolyn and Nick Bailey as Michael. Neighbors, Marge and Charlie, are played by Michael X. Martin and Cass Morgan, with Morgan especially effective in her “Get Closer” solo.

A panoramic portrait of Iowa farm country stretching off to the horizon, by set designer Michael Yeargan, provides a distinctive backdrop to the constantly changing action. Alternating with the farmland setting is a generously star splattered night sky. Simple frameworks represent farm houses and the symbolic bridge.

“The Bridges of Madison County,” heading for Broadway later this season, is certain to be a prime contender for Tony Awards. This is the perfect opportunity to be “one up” on New Yorkers. “Madison County” is already a winner.