‘Glorious music’: Sierra Stages returns with production of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’
Special to Prospector
Sierra Stages was near the end of a theater run of “Blythe Spirit” at the Nevada Theatre when they were forced to close down last March. The award-winning theater company, founded with a mission to bring high quality, affordable theater to Nevada County, has produced more than 40 plays and musicals as well as an additional 45 informal readings since forming in 2009. Taking an unplanned sabbatical when the shutdown happened, those involved in the theater company spent the time off looking for what would be next.
Managing Director Peter Mason and Musical Director Ken Getz lead the charge in yet another brilliant production this summer, bringing “The Bridges of Madison County” to the North Star House on Auburn Road in Grass Valley. At press time, only a few tickets were still available for opening night and the July 24 performances with remaining dates already sold out. Tickets must be purchased in advance and a waiting list is available at https://sierrastages.thundertix.com/events/186873.
ABOUT THE PLAY
“The Bridges of Madison County” takes place over four days when a traveling photographer happens upon an Italian-born housewife who finds herself living on a farm in Iowa. A whirlwind romance raises questions of love, commitment and choices. Based on the novel by Robert James Waller, written for the stage by Marsha Norman, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, the two-time Tony award winning musical was love at first sound for Getz.
“One day I was at the gym, and I put it on and instantly loved it. The music is incredibly accessible and beautiful and it has a mixture of Broadway and country and a little operatic … it’s just a mixture of a bunch of things. It’s glorious music. And since that moment, I knew we just had to do it,” said Getz.
Nevada County newcomer Cristi Columbo plays homemaker Francesca Johnson. Columbo, who grew up in a “show biz family,” said the musical delivers the message from the original novel but does so in a beautiful way.
“I read the book and was shocked at how much the composer, Jason Robert Brown, took monologues they have to each other – these deep conversations — and turned those into songs, so it really does portray what the book was trying to get through,” said Columbo. She concedes the musical is more focused on the choice Francesca must make but said, “There are literally lyrics that are straight out of the novel. He took those moments that were really important in the book and turned that into a whole song.”
Getz said they feel fortunate to have Colombo in the community to fill this vocally demanding role. “When we started planning this, I said there is no one around who can sing this as well as Cristi can. I think people are really going to be blown away by this music.”
The cast also features Jonathan Hansard as photographer Robert Kincaid, Micah Cone has husband Richard. Additional cast members are Amber Busse, Maxwell Freedman, Heidi Grass, Ken Miele and Sara Noah. The small cast of eight made the possibility of holding a socially distance performance outside at the North Star House a feasible solution. Mason said, “We had been in rehearsals for ‘Sweeney Todd’ when the shutdown happened. Once we figured we weren’t going to be able to do anything in 2020 and thought 2021 might be suspect, we started talking to the North Star House, thinking we might be able to do an outdoor show in the summer.”
“We figured we might still be under COVID restrictions so we planned for a very small show which we could do with masks and far apart,” explained Getz. “’Sweeny Todd’ is a very large show with 22 people in it, it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Getz said they decided on “Bridges” after listening to the soundtrack. Directed by Sharon Winegar, the story explores why someone “who is firmly grounded in a loving family and supportive community would engage in a spontaneous romance with a stranger she meets by happenstance” (as provided in a Sierra Stages press release).
“By the end of the evening, the audience understands the conflicting emotions underlying Francesca’s choices and cannot help but be moved by her journey,” said Mason. “This is largely because of Marsha Norman’s re-invention and empowering of the character of Francesca and Jason Robert Brown’s emotional and soaring score that explores not only her romance with photographer Robert Kincaid, but also her past life in Italy during World War II, her current life in Iowa circa 1965, and her relationships with her husband, family, and community. With distinct musical styles for each character, Brown’s score expertly captures these relationships while embodying a wide range of American music.”
For those who may be concerned the musical will affect their memory of the book or film (starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood) Getz said, “It’s a totally separate entity. The name is the same. The plot is similar, but everything else is different. It will not ruin your memories; however, it is a tearjerker.”
The band of local musicians includes Ken Getz, Ryan Goodpastor, James May, Nancy McRay, Steve Nicholson, Alexandra Roedder, Zoe Schlussel, David Thorp and Tony Unger. Pit singers are Kathy Chastain, Leah Leddy, Kim Shepard and Julie Tillinghast. Scenic design is by Scott Gilbert. Lighting design is by Erin Beatie and Devin Cameron. Costume design is by Paulette Sand-Gilbert, and sound design is by Greg Cameron.
This is the first outdoor production for Sierra Stages. It is a minimalist production with all actors on stage throughout the performance.
Lawn seating is general admission – first come, first served. Bring a blanket and/or a lawn chair. Low back chairs and blanket seating only at the front. Sierra Stages and North Star house will follow the COVID-19 guidelines in effect at the time of the performances. More tickets may become available once the spacing of audience members becomes clearer.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at email@example.com
KNOW & GO
WHO: Sierra Stages
WHAT: “The Bridges of Madison County”
WHERE: The North Star House, 12075 Auburn Rd, Grass Valley
WHEN: July 23, 24, 25, 29, 30 and 31 (tickets currently available only for July 23 and 24)
MORE INFO: http://www.SierraStages.org or call 530-346-3210
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