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The Bridges of Madison County: Menier Chocolate Factory

October 23, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 18th August 2019).

Never read the book, seen the film, or heard a note of the musical. On the other hand, Jake “Adrian Mole” Brunger introduced me to the CD of “The Last 5 Years” and I’m a huge fan of “13” too – so Jason Robert Brown isn’t an unknown to me, even if this particular show is.

What to make of it? According to the programme, the storyline has been simplified considerably from the novel. Italian Francesca meets soldier Bud in Naples. Her fiancée was killed in the war, so she agrees to emigrate to Bud’s farm home in Iowa, USA.

For 20 years she lives small-town American farming life, raising two children. One wins a prize for her steer, the other rejects his agricultural heritage. While they are away with her husband at a county fair, a photographer – on assignment to record the famous local bridges – pulls into her driveway to ask directions… and her life changes for a few brief days.

It takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes to tell that story – and the downside is SPOILER ALERT there is no twist to resolve the tale. SPOILER ENDS. With that situation, you’d expect something pretty sensational from the show in the way of music, acting and characterisations. Well, as “Bat Out Of Hell” has it, two out of three ain’t bad…

As Italian Francesca, Jenna Russell is astoundingly brilliant. Worth the quite substantial ticket price just for her performance. Those who haven’t seen her before would believe she was indeed an Italian American housewife with a good singing voice who just happened to be around that afternoon.

Photographer Robert Kincaid (Edward Baker-Duly) had the women and gay men around me drooling; a sympathetic air yet something that could easily be predatory. His voice holds pretty well too – “It All Fades Away” his strongest number.

Father Richard ‘Bud’ Johnson (Dale Rapley) is suitably gruff, while children Michael (David Perkins) and Carolyn (Maddison Bulleyment in a sound profeessional debut) are convincing enough to be related.

Strong work from supporting couple Gillian Kirkpatrick and Paul F. Monaghan as neighbours Marge and Charlie – her nosey but protective, him phlegmatic as only an Iowa farmer can be (if Bill Bryson is to be believed).

Lively work as well from Georgia Brown and Shanay Holmes, the former particularly in opening the second half with a bit of a clap-along, the latter a sympathetic waitress and other characters as required.

Jon Bausor’s designs makes superb use of the enormous stage space and period dress, Tal Rosner’s projections add immeasurably to the effect. Trevor Nunn resists (mostly) his urge to throw in everything including the (pretty deep) kitchen sink in directing, and Lynne Page likewise keeps the movement real.

The trouble is, after all that effort, there’s just not enough plot to hang the length of the show on, and it didn’t really move so much as it should. Worth seeing, but really it is only Jenna Russell’s performance that would make this monkey rush back again.

 

4 stars.

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