Robert James Waller left readers in a quandary with his sentimental, 1992 bestselling romance novella, “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Is infidelity always a transgression? Or can it be spun into something more positive?
Francesca (Jennifer DeDominici), an Italian war bride, is lonely and restless, despite her marriage to an American solider she met during World War II and the two children they had after settling in Iowa’s rural Madison County. After her family departs for the state fair for a few days, into her life walks Robert Kincaid (Dieter Bierbrauer), a National Geographic photographer who’s on assignment to capture the iconic covered bridges of the region. Over the next four days, the pair of lonely hearts finds a soul mate in the other. And when Francesca’s family returns, and Robert prepares to leave town, she must make a hard choice: stay or leave with her lover.
Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood portrayed the star-crossed lovers in a 1995 film, and Broadway brought the tale to life in 2014; it garnered two Tony Awards. The musical version by Fine Arts Center Theatre Company will open Friday at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. A preview show is Thursday. It runs through March 1.
The story has never been about the tawdriness of infidelity for director Nathan Halvorson, but about finally being seen and loved for who they are. Francesca’s family loves her, but they don’t really see her or honor her contributions to the household. Robert, who is going through his own dark night of the soul, shows up at a time in both of their lives when they want and need more.
“For those four days, they are 100 percent completely seen for who they are authentically,” says Halvorson, FAC’s associate director of performing arts. “We all need that. We’re all hoping someone somewhere will say ‘I see who you are and what you are and I love it and honor it and respect it.’ That allows them to live the rest of their lives because they had that moment.”
For DeDominici, and maybe many readers of the book, it’s a story that lives in a gray area. On the one hand, you empathize with Francesca and want this big, all-consuming love for her. You wonder if she’ll really give everything up and traipse off into the world with her rugged photographer. But on the other hand, you don’t want her to betray her family.
“A lot of people live in this life where they find themselves feeling stifled or unfulfilled, and they might not even know it,” DeDominici says. “The status quo seems fine, and then someone comes along and reminds you of the passion and dreams and hopes you forgot you had. I don’t look at her as a villain, but someone who’s been feeling trapped and unappreciated. Someone comes and reminds her of what it feels like to be loved and appreciated. She uses that knowledge of love and awakening to serve her family in the long run.”
Story aside, it’s the musical’s score that won the hearts of the director and star. Halvorson calls it a play with music. There are many talking scenes, no dance numbers and no chorus, a change from many musicals. Each character has their own genre of music: Francesca, who’s from Italy, sings in an Old World Italian style when she sings about her past or feels nostalgic. Robert’s style is more country folk rock, while Francesca’s family’s music has a folk bluegrass feel to it.
“Each character has musical themes that match where they are in their lives,” DeDominici says. “As the show goes on, some of those themes start to intertwine and get confused with each other as their relationships intertwine.”
The New York Times critic Ben Brantley called the score “sumptuous” in his 2014 review.
Halvorson calls the musical a perfect vehicle for DeDominici, a regular performer on stages across Colorado and the country.
“Every now and then an artist gets the chance to do a role that requires all of their art,” she says. “This role requires all of my singing and acting and honesty. It’s such a gift.”
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