Review: The Bridges of Madison County (Marriott Theatre)

| July 5, 2017

Kathty Voytko and Nathaniel Stampley star as Francesca and Robert in Bridges of Madison County            

The Bridges of Madison County

By Jason Robert Brown (music & lyrics)
   and Marsha Norman (book)
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL (map)
thru Aug 13  |  tix: $50-$60  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


Bridges’ intensely intimate staging makes for haunting production


Bridges of Madison County cast at Marriott Theatre

Marriott Theatre presents
The Bridges of Madison County

Review by Lauren Whalen

Robert James Waller’s novel The Bridges of Madison County was a runaway bestseller in the early 1990’s, followed by a hit movie adaptation starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Despite a book by Marsha Norman and score by Jason Robert Brown, however, the 2013 Broadway musical version fared less well, running less than 3 months before closing (though it did win Tony Awards for best score and orchestrations). I spoke with a friend who saw the Broadway production, who said that the story’s intimacy was lost in a large Broadway house. Thankfully, the new production at Marriott retains the story’s romantic, intensely personal aura, with lovely staging, a strong sense of Kathy Voytko stars as Francesca in in Bridges of Madison County at Marriott Theatrehumor and two luminous leading actors.

The Bridges of Madison County is the story of Francesca Johnson (Jeff Award-winner Kathy Voytko), who emigrated from war-torn Naples, Italy with her American soldier husband, Bud (Bart Shatto) after the war in the 1940’s. Now it’s 1965, and the couple live with their two children on a farm in Winterset, Iowa. Bud and the kids are headed to the Indiana State Fair, but Francesca begs off, craving rare peace and quiet. Enter Robert Kincade (Nathaniel Stampley, also a Jeff Award-winner), a photographer for “National Geographic,” who stops at the Johnson farm to ask Francesca for directions. What follows is a whirlwind four-day affair, and a choice for Francesca that could change the lives of her entire family.

I’ve never read Waller’s book, nor did I see the movie (watching Clint Eastwood take a shower wasn’t a priority for my teenage self). With that in mind, I found Norman’s script honest and poignant, with more than a dash of down-home humor and respect for all of the characters, including Francesca’s well-meaning, utterly Midwestern husband Bud. Everyone, from Francesca and Robert to their nosy but supportive neighbor Marge (Wydetta Carter) feels like a real person to someone who grew up in a farm town with many similarities to Winterset. (Like Francesca’s daughter Carolyn, at least one of my grade-school classmates raised and showed steers.) It’s always refreshing and pleasant to see farmers and their families as human, rather than hick stereotypes. Brown’s music and lyrics, as always, are phenomenal, radiating longing in every note and providing narrative and character development all their own. Francesca and Robert reveal their respective histories, reflect on their growing feelings for one another and express their tortured love through Brown’s heartfelt music, lyrics and gorgeous orchestrations.

 Nathaniel Stample and Kathy Voytko star as Robert and Francesca in Bridges of Madison County Bart Shatto stars as Bud in Bridges of Madison County, Marriott TheatreAllyson Graves and Nick Cosgrove star as Older Carolyn and Paolo in in Bridges of Madison CountyBrooke MacDougal and Tanner Hake star as Carolyn and Michael in Bridges of Madison County, Marriott Kathy Voytko stars as Francesca in Bridges of Madison County, Marriott TheatreBrandon Springman and Bart Shatto star in Bridges of Madison County, Marriott TheatreTerry Hamilton and Wydetta Carter star as Charlie and Marge in Bridges of Madison County Nathaniel Stampley and Kathy Voytko star as Robert and Francesca in Bridges of Madison County, MarriottKathy Voytko and Nathaniel Stampley star as Francesca and Robert in Bridges of Madison County, Marriott

Director Nick Bowling, supported by music director Ryan T. Nelson, stages Bridges with care and concern for even the most minor characters, utilizing innovative set design by Jeff Kmiec and Anthony Churchill’s picturesque projections. (Bowling is an Iowa native, and it shows.) Sally Dolembo’s costumes are colorful and vivid, accurately reflecting mid-60’s heartland chic, and Patti Garwood conducts a small but mighty orchestra. Every actor in Bridges is well cast and solid: supporting role standouts include Brooke MacDougal as Francesca’s tomboy daughter Carolyn, the delightful, funny Carter as neighbor Marge and Terry Hamilton as Marge’s gruff but patient husband George. With a permanently creased brow and well-worn baseball cap, Shatto’s Bud is the quintessential farmer: devoted to work and family, always ready to help a neighbor, but not always well-versed in matters of the heart. Bridges would not work without two dynamic leads with red-hot chemistry, and thankfully Voytko and Stampley are more than up for the task. Both have extensive credits in Chicago and New York, and bring everything they have to two fully-realized individuals, stronger together than apart, but ultimately ill-fated.

The Bridges of Madison County is well worth the jaunt outside of Chicago. The story is simple, the direction stellar, the music hauntingly beautiful and the actors stunning. Though the ending verges slightly into melodrama (even with the romantic storyline in mind), this is an intimate, almost otherworldly musical, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

Rating: ★★★½

The Bridges of Madison County continues through August 13th at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire (map), with performances Wednesdays 1pm & 8pm, Thursdays and Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4:30pm & 8pm, Sundays 1pm & 5pm; with select Thursdays at 1pm.  Tickets are $50-$60, and are available by phone (847-634-0200) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 45 minutes, includes an intermission)

Wydetta Carter and Terry Hamilton star as Marge and Charlie in Bridges of Madison County, Marriott

Photos by Liz Lauren




Kathy Voytko (Francesca), Brooke MacDougal (Carolyn), Tanner Hake (Michael), Bart Shatto (Bud), Wydetta Carter (Marge), Terry Hamilton (Charlie), Emily Berman (Marian, Ensemble), Nathaniel Stampley (Robert), Danni Smith (State Fair Singer, Ensemble), Phoebe Gonzalez (Chiara, Ensemble), Nick Cosgrove (Paolo, Ensemble), Allyson Graves (Older Carolyn, Ensemble), Shea Coffman, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Brandon Springman (Ensemble),

Understudies: Johanna McKenzie Miller (Francesca, State Fair Singer), Allyson Graves (Carolyn), Nick Cosgrove (Michael), Shea Coffman (Bud, Charlie), Danni Smith (Marge, Marian), Brandon Springman (Robert, Paolo), Emily Berman (Chiara)


Patti Garwood (keyboard), Dave Belden, Madeline Capistran (violins), Elena Spiegel, Dominic Johnson (violin, viola), Audrey Snyder (cello), Corey Richardson (acoustic guitar, mandolin), Dave Saenger (acoustic and electric guitar), Trevor Jones (acoustic and electric bass), Jed Feder (drums, percussion)

behind the scenes

Nick Bowling (director), Jeffrey D. Kmiec (set design), Jesse Klug (lighting design), Sally Dolembo (costume design), Anthony Churchill (projections design), Robert E. Gilmartin (sound design), Sally Weiss (properties design), Angela M. Adams (stage manager), Deya Friedman (production manager), Patti Garwood (musical supervisor), Jason Robert Brown (orchestrations), Geoff Josselson (NY casting director), Ryan T. Nelson (music director), William Carlos Angulo (musical staging), Allyson Graves (dance captain), Terry James (executive producer), Andy Hite (lead artistic director), Aaron Thielen (artistic director), Peter Marston Sullivan (associate artistic director), Liz Lauren (photos)

Wydetta Carter and Kathy Voytko star as Marge and Francesca in Bridges of Madison County, MarriottNathaniel Stampley stars as Robert in Bridges of Madison County, Marriott Theatre  Kathty Voytko and Nathaniel Stampley star as Francesca and Robert in Bridges of Madison County


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Category: Jason Robert Brown, Lauren Whalen, Marriott Theatre, Musical, Video, YouTube

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