Hindi Greenberg: Wonderful acting, lovely music in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ | TheUnion.com

Hindi Greenberg: Wonderful acting, lovely music in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Hooray, Sierra Stages returns with live theater!

After the long pandemic pause, it was wonderful to sit outside at the North Star House on a warm, starry night and watch a live performance, with glorious music and fine acting, presented by Sierra Stages. Their production of “The Bridges of Madison County” is mounted like a staged reading, using props but without scenery, yet as performed, feels as completely developed as a fully staged play.

This “Bridges” is a musical, based on Robert James Waller’s 1992 novel, with book by Pulitzer winning Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown. The musical premiered on Broadway in February 2014 and won Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations.

The play does not follow the exact trajectory of either the novel or the Clint Eastwood/Meryl Streep movie of the same name. Yes, it is the story of Francesca, an Italian WWII bride who married Bud, an American soldier, to escape the war’s aftermath, then grew increasingly forlorn with the flat and colorless Iowa farm environs and life in which she found herself. And yes, there is Robert, the handsome National Geographic photographer who arrives to photograph the local bridges and with whom Francesca has an intense four day affair while her family is out of town. But the musical focuses more on the compromises that Francesca must make and their results — who hasn’t, at times, wanted to experience the road not taken and have the opportunity to choose another, more exciting direction?

While the performances and singing are excellent, the music — a tuneful mixture of operatic, folk, country, Broadway and various rollicking sounds — is the star of the show. Enhanced with the wonderful voices and acting, the music itself well-expresses the moods and characters of the actors.

As Francesca, Christi Colombo’s expressive face and beautiful voice project the sad, unfulfilled longing of a life not richly lived. Jonathan Hansard’s Robert is a disengaged, lost man, seeking something he hadn’t yet found until meeting Francesca. Their lovely vocal duets and stage chemistry allow the audience to believe in their immediate affinity.

Supporting roles by Micah Cone as husband Bud, Amber Busse as daughter Carolyn, Maxwell Freedman as son Michael, Sara Noah as neighbor Marge, Ken Miele as Marge’s husband Charlie, and Heidi Grass in various incarnations, all enhance the understanding of life on a small farm — its humor, loneliness, caring and mundaneness. Plus, they add terrific singing and characterizations.

Director Sharon Winegar made effective choices in staging, so that even without scenery, the actors’ movements around the small stage area are interesting, and the action never feels stagnant. Music Director/Conductor/Pianist Ken Getz’s eight musicians and four back-up singers, all sitting on stage behind the actors, contribute rich sounds and nuances to the varied melodies. Effective stage lighting by Erin Beatie and Devin Cameron Jewett contribute to the intimacy of the outdoor stage.

The splendid music, superb acting and lovely setting create a must-attend event. Although there are performances on July 29-31, tickets are sold-out. However, put your name on the waiting list at SierraStages.org to possibly experience an evening of excellent musical theater.

Hindi Greenberg can barely hum a tune, but she definitely appreciates good music and singing when she hears it. Welcome back, Sierra Stages— we missed you greatly!

Jonathan Hansard and Christi Colombo as Robert and Francesca in the Sierra Stages production of “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Photo by David Wong
The cast of the Sierra Stages production of “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Photo by David Wong
Sara Noah and Ken Miele as Marge and Charlie in the Sierra Stages production of “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Photo by David Wong
Hindi Greenberg

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