Move over Clint Eastwood & Meryl Streep, ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ hits Signature Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Bridges of Madison County' at Signature Theatre (Part 1)

Clint Eastwood was known for Oscar-worthy Western films when he directed himself across from Meryl Streep in the tragic romance “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995), based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Robert James Waller and adapted by Richard LaGravenese, future screenwriter of “The Notebook” (2004).

In 2014, musical theater genius Jason Robert Brown adapted the story into a Broadway musical, which is currently being staged at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, running now through Sept. 17.

“The show didn’t run very long on Broadway, but because of the score and the cast, it almost has this iconic reputation; people are like, ‘Ah! ‘The Bridges of Madison County!'” actor Mark Evans told WTOP.

“There are people coming to see our show who know nothing about the story and fall in love with it. There are also people coming to the show who have very high levels of expectations and, fortunately, we don’t disappoint.”

The story follows Francesca Johnson, a lonely housewife in 1960s Madison County, Iowa. When her husband and kids leave town to attend the state fair for the weekend, she strikes up a forbidden romance with Robert Kincaid, a traveling National Geographic photographer taking pictures of the area’s covered bridges.

“Francesca (played by Erin Davie) is an Italian woman who moved to Iowa,” Evans said.

“My character … has been assigned to go to their county and take pictures of the famous covered bridges and he can’t find the seventh of the seven bridges, so he stops by the farm to ask for directions. Long story short, they have this profound, illustrious love affair that changes the course of each of their lives quite dramatically.”

The drama of the novel and film might seem like a challenge to convert into a musical, but the Broadway show boasted a book by Pulitzer Prize playwright Marsha Norman (“The Color Purple,” “The Secret Garden”). The result earned four Tony nods, starring Kelli O’Hara (“The King & I”) and Steven Pasquale (“Rescue Me”).

“I remember seeing the original Broadway production 10 years ago and was blown away,” Evans said.

“Brown wrote the show as a vehicle for Kelli O’Hara, for her beautiful soprano voice. I was actually watching it signed off of another show on medical vocal rest for a week, so to see something that had such a profound effect on me, I was like, ‘This is the kind of storytelling I want to do.’ … It’s a thrill to be able to sing this score.”

The show features Tony Award-winning music by Brown, who previously won the Tony Award for Best Original Score for “Parade” (1999) and two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics for “The Last Five Years” (2002), which cleverly moved forward and backward at the same time.

“There’s so much you can do to establish tone with the decision of what instrument is used,” Evans said.

“There’s a lot of cello that has this haunting, painful sound. … The music never goes where you expect it to go, so it keeps you invested. When you have these beautiful orchestrations supporting the most profound lyrics … he’s the modern-day Stephen Sondheim in my opinion. It’s one of the greatest scores of the last decade.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Bridges of Madison County' at Signature Theatre (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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