Music & Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown. Written by: Marsha Norman. Directed by: Nick Bowling. At: Marriott Lincolnshire, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire. Tickets: Marriotttheatre.com: $50-60. Runs through: Aug. 13
The Marriott Lincolnshire is presenting the regional premiere of The Bridges of Madison County. This is the musical version of Robert James Waller's best-selling romance novel that was later made into a movie starring Meryl Streep.
The theater has been transformed into a huge bridge with projections that give you a real sense of the farmland of the location ( the beauty of farm life, along with the isolation ). It literally surrounds the audience members, putting them in the mindset of farm wife Francesca. Kudos go to set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec and projection designer Anthony Churchill.
The familiar plot is about an Italian-American farm wife and mother ( Kathy Voytko ) whose family is out of town at a county fair. She meets a National Geographic photographer ( Nathaniel Stampley ) who is taking pictures of the bridges. They share meals and experiences, and they fall in love. Will she leave her life to escape with this stranger who offers her adventure or do what is expected of her?
Voytko, as Francesca, is really incredible. She brings the correct amount of emotion and pathos, but also so much humor. It is unexpected how funny this show is. This musical is really hers in all ways. Stampley, as photographer Robert, has such a wonderful singing voice you can totally understand why she would fall for him so quickly. They are well-matched and believable.
The supporting cast really fills out this story. Bart Shattoas Bud, her husbandreflects the frustration of a busy farm life with little time for vacation or romance. Neighbors Marge ( Wydetta Carter ) and Charlie ( Terry Hamilton ) provide a lot of comic relief and steal every moment they have. Carter brings down the house with her musical number. Emily Berman was also a standout as the ex-wife of Robert in a really beautiful moment. The rest of the cast sports fine vocals as they fill in the residents of Iowa, being more ethereal than Greek chorus. In addition, Allyson Graves and Nick Cosgrove do some magical dancing as a young Francesca and her youthful beau.
As a musical, the score is beautiful and emotional, with a pop-country feel. Unfortunately, after the main action and character choices are made, the show continues with an unnecessary epilogue. I wish book writer Marsha Norman had showed some restraint.
Overall, it's a funny, poignant, beautiful show that exceeds expectations.