‘Bridges’ is about real peo­ple in tough spots

The Broad­way mu­si­cal based on the best-sell­ing novel is set on a farm in the Iowa of 1965.

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - ON STAGE - By Rod Stafford Hag­wood

“The Bridges of Madi­son County” was a hit novel in 1992 (spend­ing three years on the New York Times best seller list) and a suc­cess­ful movie in 1995 (star­ring Meryl Streep and Clint East­wood).

Now, the 2014 Broad­way mu­si­cal ver­sion of the ro­man­tic drama is com­ing April 26-May 1 to the Kravis Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts in West Palm Beach.

The stage show has a book writ­ten by Pulitzer Prize win­ner Mar­sha Nor­man (“The Se­cret Gar­den,” “The Color Pur­ple,” “’night, Mother”) and Tony Award win­ner Ja­son Robert Brown (“Pa­rade,” “The Last Five Years,” “Honeymoon in Ve­gas”).

Like the orig­i­nal book by Robert James Waller, the mu­si­cal ver­sion is set in1965 and is about lonely, mar­ried Francesca, a for­mer war bride from Italy who is liv­ing on a farm in Madi­son County, Iowa. When her hus­band and chil­dren leave for a few days to com­pete in a 4-H fair, Francesca meets Robert, a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic pho­tog­ra­pher in town to shoot the fa­mous cov­ered bridges. Their ro­mance means that Francesca has to make a choice on how to spend the re­main­der of her life.

Brown, who won Best Orig­i­nal Score and Best Or­ches­tra­tions for the show, re­cently spoke about the show dur­ing a phone in­ter­view.

Where do you keep your Tonys?

I keep them in my stu­dio. I have a bookshelf. But here’s the weird thing: The two “Bridges” Tonys are ac­tu­ally taller than the “Pa­rade” Tony Award. I guess in the en­su­ing years, the stat­ues got taller. Now, my “Bridges” Tonys are look­ing down on the “Pa­rade” Tony in a con­de­scend­ing man­ner.

Was there a mantra you kept in mind while com­pos­ing the score?

[The novel] is very maudlin. It’s very goopy and sen­ti­men­tal, and I didn’t par­tic­u­larly want to write that. The thing that we kept in mind was, as far as we were con­cerned, th­ese were real peo­ple … and to not get trapped by the book or the movie into mak­ing them some sort of icons. They

“The Bridges of Madi­son County”

When: Tues­day through May 1. Show­times are 8 p.m. Tues­day-Satur­day, with 2 p.m. mati­nees Wed­nes­day, Satur­day and Sun­day. Where: Kravis Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, 701 Okee­chobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Cost: Tick­ets cost $27-$72. Con­tact: 561-832-7469 or Kravis.org were real peo­ple in a tough sit­u­a­tion.

What can the mu­si­cal do that the book and film could not?

The mu­sic and lyrics tell us some­thing about their in­ner lives that or­di­nary di­a­logue can’t do. We can track the pre­cise path of this ro­mance. We can see how it ger­mi­nates in­side their heads … and how they make the de­ci­sion to act on it. The mu­sic can be the in­ter­nal be­cause, es­sen­tially, they are very pro­tec­tive peo­ple. Robert is not a char­ac­ter who nat­u­rally is go­ing to talk a lot. This is how to give his emo­tional life a voice. You need both of the char­ac­ters to be strong on­stage.

What is your work process?

Mar­sha and I sit down to­gether and fig­ure out what the gen­eral shape of the piece is, how many events oc­cur and what hap­pens in each event. Is that a mu­si­cal event or not a mu­si­cal event? Then, she goes away and lays out the show, and as she does it, she sends it to me. When it comes to the story, I’m try­ing to fig­ure out what do [ the char­ac­ters] want, where are they, as a drama- tist and a com­poser. Usu­ally, I come up with the ti­tle of the song, some­thing I can hold on to, to hook into the song. I may or may not keep that. Even­tu­ally, I just start mak­ing dis­parate strands. It’s a slow process. It’s more in­tu­itive than I ever know how to ar­tic­u­late.

What did you mean when you said the show didn’t get a fair shake in New York, open­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2014 and clos­ing four months later?

I’m not sure I said that. But for what­ever the rea­son, “Bridges of Madi­son County” was not a long run. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a suc­cess. It touched peo­ple enor­mously. I think we get caught up in what is a suc­cess and [not] what is good. I think it’s a re­ally beau­ti­ful piece, and [it is] work I’m enor­mously proud of.”

MATTHEW MUR­PHY/COUR­TESY

El­iz­a­beth Stan­ley and An­drew Sa­mon­sky star in the na­tional tour of “The Bridges of Madi­son County,” com­ing to West Palm Beach’s Kravis Cen­ter.

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