Philadelphia Theatre Company: ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ - Exquisitely Transporting
From the first scene to the finale, this powerful performance takes what might at first glance seem like a corny love story set in Iowa and transforms it into a sentient, captivatingm moving experience under the direction of Mark Martino. In the magnificent opening number “To Build a Home”, a house and kitchen manifest almost magically on stage as Francesca (Sarah Gliko) operatically recounts escaping war ravaged Italy via an American soldier, Bud Johnson (Scott Guthrie) and how for the past 18 years she has cooked, cleaned and raised a family on their farm. While her husband Bud is taking their two rivalrous children, Michael (Kevin John Murray) and Carolyn (Georgiana Summers), and the prize cow away for four days to the 1965 State Fair to the tune of “Home Before You Know It”, Franny looks forward to a little alone time. This is not to be, however, when stud photo-journalist Robert (Gregg Goodbrod), lost looking for a covered bridge, charges up her driveway seeking directions. Francesca oblivious and barefoot in her kitchen is genuinely kind and friendly, so of course offers up assistance, sweet iced tea and a sensuous home cooked meal.
Feelings awaken within Francesca that she has not known before, and Robert finds the frame of existence he’s been searching for his whole life coalescing with the richly resonant duet “Falling into You”, but it isn’t that simple. In the song “One Second and a Million Miles to Go” the emotional gnashing inside Francesca is revealed as she exclaims “I don’t want to go back to a world without this…Torn in half…” as an emotional impasse forms between the euphoria of new found ardor and the dedication she feels for her family.
Gorgeous bright patches and humor also appear in this truly heart-rending tale from the Heartland, particularly one scene featuring nosy neighbor Marge (Barbara McCulloh) and her husband Charlie (Greg Wood) in which Marge demands to know what he would do if she were dallying with a hippie shutterbug. McCulloh’s superb comedic timing and beautiful belting ability pair well with Wood’s solid bass and role as ‘straight man’. Rachel Camp, of mellifluous voice, multiplies the fun in her multiple roles including ex-wife Marian, Ginny, State Fair singer and especially as Franny’s slutty sister Chiara. Many amusing moments occur between the Johnson kids as well – the interplay between Murray and Summers is quite convincing! Scott Guthrie successfully softens his stoic portrayal of hard-working farmer Bud a bit during the evincing “Something From a Dream” without giving in too much.
This talented, tightly knit ensemble also, nearly imperceptibly, moves set pieces during seamlessly choreographed scene changes under the cover of shade or screen, accompanied by ever present beautifully performed music under the direction of Amanda Morton. Handsome scenic design by Paul Tate dePoo III is suggestive rather than heavy handed, allowing for more focus on active content. Major set pieces are surreptitiously lowered or overlaid onto the stage transforming places without disruption to the story. Mark Mariani’s subtle costume design nicely covers the fashion across times and ages. Elizabeth Mak’s brilliant lighting design shapes, hides, highlights, converts, distorts, delineates, fills or follows, fades up or down suffusing the show like an illuminating, ever on cue Elemental.
Sarah Gliko and Gregg Goodbrod through their stage presence and rich powerful voices give evocative performances that lay siege to the emotions. Philadelphia Theatre Company’s touching presentation of “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre taps resoundingly at the core… Go ahead and respond!
Book by Marsha Norman. Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Based on the novel by Robert James Waller
Tickets are available online at https://myptc.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org/ or by calling the box office at 215-985-0420. Philadelphia Theatre Company is located at 480 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA, 19146. Remaining performances run through March 3.