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NY1 Theater Review: "The Bridges of Madison County"

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Based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, the musical version of "The Bridges of Madison County" comes to the stage. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

Romantic tales of illicit love affairs can so easily come off clichéd. And when the story's already been told in book and film, the novelty is lost, and that's another potential strike. These are the challenges confronting the creators of the musical version of "The Bridges of Madison County," a true labor of love.

Based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, "Bridges" focuses on a brief, life-altering encounter between two unfulfilled souls, Francesca and Robert. It's 1965 Iowa. She's a war bride from Italy married to an American soldier. Robert is a photographer taking pictures of covered bridges. In the course of four days, while Francesca's husband and kids are off to the state fair, an intense passion flowers amid this workaday farm community.

Bart Sher's fluid direction brings all the elements together, painting a beautifully intimate portrait shaded in natural tones. Judge the infidelity all you want, but the deep attraction feels real between these two.

They're aided immeasurably by Marsha Norman's subtly heartfelt adaptation and, most especially, Jason Robert Brown's lush score. His love songs, which he also orchestrated, are marvelous extensions of the heart, soaring expansively to heights of desire.

It's very well cast. Hunter Foster, as the decent but culturally limited husband, is a strong presence. But of course, it's all about the lovers. Stephen Pasquale is excellent. As a charming, troubled soul, he sings with the kind of power and conviction that leaves no doubt a new star is born. And the stunningly gifted Kelli O'Hara should win her fifth Tony nomination with this role, the most finely tuned of her illustrious career, and she sings her heart out.

Yes, it's a soap opera, but an irresistible one; and if you're in the right mood, expect to be utterly smitten.

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