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Theatre / The Bridges of Madison County

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"You and I have just one second and a million miles to go..."

The Bridges of Madison County is a 2014 musical based on the 1992 Robert Waller novel of the same name. With a score by Jason Robert Brown, a book by Marsha Norman, and direction by Bartlett Sher, it starred Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale as lovers Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid.

It's 1965 in rural Iowa. Francesca Johnson is an Italian war bride brought to America to escape the destruction of her native Naples in World War II. After two decades as a farm housewife, she has a fond but dispassionate marriage with farmer Bud and two teenaged children, Michael and Carolyn, but longs for the passion she has tamped down for years. On the day her family leaves for the Iowa State Fair, a National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid, comes up her driveway asking for directions to photograph the famous covered bridges. Their connection grows and rapidly deepens into a four-day love affair that will come to define them both. As her family's return draws nearer, Francesca must choose between the two great loves of her life: her family and her soul mate.

Although the musical closed after only 137 performances, Brown won two Tonys for composing and orchestrating the score, and a national tour launched in 2015.

This musical provides examples of:

  • Age Lift: The characters are aged down from previous versions of the story. Francesca is around 39-40, while Robert is somewhere around 41-42.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Adapted from a book (which had also already been made into a well-known movie).
  • Bad Liar: Francescac is fine at strategically not mentioning things, but when she has to directly tell a lie, she fumbles. She tells Bud that she didn't answer the phone because she went to the movies in Des Moines, and when he quite understandably asks which movie she can't think of a title, so she says she's so hot and tired she can't remember and quickly gets him off the phone.
  • Black Comedy: When Bud and the kids get back from the fair, they're all frayed from an eight-hour drive, Francesca is breaking down because of the affair, and the entire thing descends into a horrible family fight. After Francesca defuses things, Bud then declares, in the same tone of voice you might say "go to your room, you're grounded", that they're all going into town to get ice cream whether they like it or not.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Francesca doesn't run away with Robert. She manages to have a good life with Bud, and helps Carolyn and Michael to grow up happy and successful. Robert has a long career as National Geographic's photographer and never stops loving Francesca, but they never see each other again, and he eventually becomes terminally ill and sends her the picture he took of her on the bridge.
  • Dance of Romance: Robert and Francesca slow dance to the radio on their second night after meeting, just before consummating their affair.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Francesca definitely has her moments. See: her suggestion that "the patron saint of Iowa housewives" sent Robert to her, or this little exchange:
    Robert: Is there anything else you'd like me to do?
    Francesca: That you haven't done to me already?
  • Death Song: Two examples, one after the other:
    • While not a death song in the sense that a character literally dies during the number, "It All Fades Away" is sung as Robert is dying of some unknown illness and is looking back on his life.
    • "When I'm Gone" serves to bridge the years between the end of the main plot and the epilogue, and is primarily narrated/sung by Bud and Charlie as they pass away and look back on those they've loved.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "It All Fades Away" is the second-to-last number in the show and is a sweeping declaration of how, at the end of Robert's life, the only thing that has stuck with him is the love he and Francesca shared all those years ago.
  • Epilogue Letter: Francesca gets one from Robert, leading into the final song:
    Dear Francesca, I have wanted to write so many times over these years. I'm sorry this is the letter I must write. I've given away everything and I've burned all my photos, except the one enclosed for you. So if you are reading this letter, it will mean I am gone, to wherever we all go in the end. Into the air, I hope, or the light. Or even back to dust would be okay with me. But every day now I remember some new moment of our time together. I have hoped for your call, but I understand why you made the choice you did. Your love for your family is part of my love for you. I hope you have felt my love every day, I have been, and always will be, yours, forever. Robert
  • Grief Song: Francesca's "Always Better" allows her to both mourn Robert and remember the love they shared.
  • "I Want" Song: In a rare instance of this song not belonging to the protagonist, Robert sings "Temporarily Lost" about his search for meaning in the world.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: For the most part, the show could cut "State Road 21" and skip straight to "Who We Are And Who We Want To Be" without any effect on the plot; it's just a toe-tapping country number that focuses on the antics the Johnsons get up to at the fair.
  • Love Theme: "Falling Into You" and "One Second and a Million Miles" are Robert and Francesca's, even getting a Dark Reprise as the last notes of the show.
  • Nosy Neighbor: The musical adds two new characters that were neither in the book nor the film, Francesca's neighbors, Charlie and Marge. Marge takes a keen interest in Francesca's affair.
  • Setting Introduction Song: The show's opening number "To Build A Home" neatly sets up Francesca's backstory in broad strokes, as well as the atmosphere of rural Iowa.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Francescas's adulterous affair is not played as a character failing, but rather as a too-fleeting connection between soul mates, justified in particular by her unfulfilling life and marriage in Iowa. However, her husband is not portrayed as a bad person, just distant and unable to get out of the rut he's stuck in and give her what she needs.