Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Through May 18, $59-$141
During the first act of the musical version of The Bridges of Madison County, it looks like this sentimental story of a married woman who has a brief tryst with a traveling photographer in 1965 will successfully pull off the triple play, going from wildly successful book to hit movie to smash Broadway musical. But then comes the second act. The mushy melodrama was first told in Robert James Waller’s critically maligned 1992 novel, which has sold more than fifty millions copies worldwide, then in Clint Eastwood’s 1995 film, starring an Oscar-nominated Meryl Streep and Eastwood, which earned more than $180 million at the box office. For the Broadway musical, which has just posted its early closing notice of May 18, director Bartlett Sher (The Light in the Piazza, Awake and Sing!), Pulitzer Prize-winning book writer Marsha Norman (’Night, Mother; The Color Purple), and composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years) have significantly tweaked the narrative, abandoning any framing story and lowering the ages of the protagonists, making things that much hotter — even throwing in a surprise flash of nudity. But none of that can help change the seriously flawed main focus, a suburban wife’s pie-in-the-sky fantasy, the same kind of thing that has brought Fifty Shades of Grey mainstream success.
Just after her husband (Hunter Foster) and teenage kids (Caitlin Kinnunen and Derek Klena) take off for a few days to present their prize steer at a state fair, bored Italian housewife Francesca Johnson (Kelli O’Hara) is instantly drawn to National Geographic photographer and crunchy loner Robert Kincaid (Steven Pasquale), who has come to Winterset, Iowa, to shoot a series on the covered bridges in Madison County. Francesca and Robert consider pursuing their magnetic attraction even as nosy neighbor Marge (Cass Morgan) can’t stop sharing gossip with her unconcerned husband, Charlie (Michael X. Martin), and soon find themselves caught in the searing heat of the moment, consequences be damned. But then comes the second act, when everything that had been built up so well — from the supporting characters to the simmering passion of the protagonists to Michael Yeargan’s imaginative moving sets (the minimalist bridge design was inspired by Lars von Trier’s Dogville) — starts falling apart in a flurry of sappy, maudlin scenes that trap the creative team, resulting in a long, needless tacked-on ending that goes on and on (and on). O’Hara and Pasquale are excellent in their roles, singing with sweet operetta-like flourishes, but the later material, which ranges from the repetitive to the nonsensical, fails them as the story gets mired in its rather insulting fantasia, which really is a shame, because with a bit more tweaking, this might not be closing on Broadway so quickly and hitting the road for a national tour in 2015, which is likely to be a bigger success away from the Great White Way.