The Axelrod Performing Arts Center presents its highly anticipated production of The Bridges of Madison County Musical by Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman in March. The production is directed by Hunter Foster who played Bud Johnson in the original Broadway cast. Broadway legends Kate Baldwin and Aaron Lazar star as Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid, respectively. It’s a treat for audiences to see their talent in this New Jersey production.
Robert James Waller wrote Madison County Bridges novel in 1992, and it was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film in 1995 starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood as Francesca and Robert. The musical has a book by Marsha Norman, and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. It premiered at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2013 and moved to Broadway in 2014 with Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale. The production earned four Tony nominations, securing Jason Robert Brown two wins for Best Original Score and Best Orchestration. Madison County Bridges had a four-month Broadway run, but continued its legacy with a national tour in 2015.
Madison County Bridges is the story of Italian immigrant and war bride Francesca who meets National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid in Winterset, Iowa. While Francesca’s husband and two children are away at the Illinois State Fair, Robert arrives at Francesca’s house to ask for directions to the Rosemont Bridge in Madison County. The two become friends and develop an unexpected and secret affair, leaving the two lovers in a risky situation. Francesca and Robert bring out parts of each other that they didn’t know were possible, but fear their relationship is too good to be true. Madison County Bridges proves that true love can exist, but at what cost?
Kate Baldwin leads the cast as Francesca Johnson, an artist from Naples, Italy, who fled her home country during World War II. Baldwin is a perfect fit for the role and is able to express a wide range of emotions in his performance. She embodies Francesca’s loneliness, as well as her humor and excitement when spending time with Robert. From start to finish, Baldwin sings Jason Robert Brown’s score beautifully throughout the show. It begins with the opening number, “To Build A Home”, which is the audience’s introduction to Francesa’s social life as a housewife in Iowa. Baldwin showed off his character’s transformation in the closing song “Always Better”. It was a heartfelt ending for the show, where Francesca looks back on her time with Robert and is grateful to have met him. Baldwin’s smooth, soprano voice filled the entire theater and easily drew the audience into Francesca’s story.
Aaron Lazar steps into the role of Robert Kincaid, a rugged, wandering photographer who travels the world snapping photos of important landmarks. Lazar’s intense and passionate portrayal of Robert made audiences grow attached to him, even though his character was placed in an awkward position. The Cherry Hill, New Jersey native’s singing voice alone was worth the price of admission. Lazar made his first walk down the aisle with the song “Temporarily Lost.” It was a memorable moment for front-row viewers to see a Broadway star up close. Lazar’s version of Robert is someone who is optimistic and dreams big. In the song “The World Inside A Frame”, Robert shows Francesca how to capture a good photo, and they bond over their creative interests. The dark tune “It All Fades Away” shows another side of Robert, as he reflects on his time with Francesca and how it changed his life, but also broke his heart.
Baldwin and Lazar made an unstoppable pair as calm Francesca and adventurous Robert. The actors have worked together many times before, and it was evident in their performance. They sang Jason Robert Brown’s iconic anthems “Falling Into You,” where Francesca and Robert realize they’re falling in love, and “One Second and a Million Miles,” when Robert convinces Francesca to leave. farm with him. They put their own stamp on the renditions of these classic songs, which satisfied the musical theater fans in the audience. The score did Baldwin and Lazar’s vocals justice and left a powerful and lasting impression. The Broadway veterans have a natural chemistry on stage, which worked well and made it easier for them to carry the show. Baldwin and Lazar’s scenes together and apart were equally amazing, showing just how talented they really are.
There are many other notable performers in this production of The Bridges of Madison County. Bart Shatto stars as Francesa’s husband, Richard “Bud” Johnson, who was a World War II American soldier turned farm owner. Thomas Cromer and Emily Pellcchia play Francesca and Bud’s children, Michael and Carolyn Johnson. Giuliana Augello shares the roles of Robert’s ex-wife, Marian, and Francesca’s sister, Chiara. Nikki Yarnell and Mark Megill are neighbors of the Johnson family, Marge and Charlie. Each actor shines in ensemble numbers such as “State Road 21” and “When I’m Gone.” The small cast allowed this story to be told in a clear and intimate way.
The creative team of Madison County Bridges took audiences to a small rural town in Iowa. Anna Louizos’ scenic design featured wooden arches representing the Rosemont Bridge. There were scenes in the kitchen and bedroom of Francesca’s home, and a detailed tapestry design for the Illinois State Fair. An additional element was the projection screen which showed the farm’s cornfields. Paul Miller’s lighting design changed the color of the sky during the show. Lauren Roark created simple costumes like those worn in the 1960s Midwest, and sound design by Jeff Sherwood gave a sense of what it was like to live on a farm. Keith Levenson leads a 10-piece orchestra that makes Jason Robert Brown’s music even more breathtaking.
Those lucky enough to see The Bridges of Madison County at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center will have the performance of a lifetime. Hunter Foster directs a production with excellent acting, beautiful music, and a story that will resonate with audiences for years to come. Anyone who gets the chance to see this musical in person will love every minute of it.
How to get tickets
Tickets for The Bridges of Madison County can be purchased by calling 732-531-9106 ex.14 or visiting the Axelrod Performing Arts Center website at https://www.axelrodartscenter.com/the-bridges-of-madison-county.
The show will be presented at the Vogel Auditorium until March 27. The theater is located at 100 Grant Avenue in Deal Park, NJ. For more information about Axelrod Performing Arts Center, you can follow them on Twitter and instagram @axelrodarts or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/axelrodarts/