Friday, January 31, 2014

The Bridges of Madison County

It's the moment. The lonely Italian-born Iowan housewife and the dashing photographer dance. And the audience's focus is pulled onto a neighbor, singing.

It's another moment. Their love is growing. And focus is pulled onto a skeletal faux bridge being lowered.

Still another moment. And focus is pulled onto the four store fronts being rolled onstage. Or the kitchen coming in. Or the fake car being put in place. Or the people at the country fair. Etc, etc, etc.

The Bridges of Madison County in its various incarnations is a testament to mush. It's cliched, silly, predictable, corny, and trite. Well-done, it can also be ridiculously affecting, a major tear-jerker. But you have to embrace the mush, focus on the mush, honor the mush, trust the mush.

The often-brilliant Bartlett Sher, director of the musical version of The Bridges of Madison County, does everything he can to distract from the mush. His direction is busy, overthought, and overdone. It takes the slight but sweet story at the center of the show and buries it under motion and scenery and tangents. Composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman are guilty as well; they have stuffed this souffle of a show with so many ingredients that it has no chance of rising. But Sher makes it even worse, never letting the story settle for even a minute or two.

As of the eighth Broadway preview (the show was also done earlier at Williamstown), the show runs two and a half hours. It is showy and large and annoying. (It has already been trimmed by 30 minutes, and I for one am grateful not to have seen the clog dancing or the sister's solo.) Somewhere in there is a hundred-minute intimate musical screaming to get out.

The score is luscious, Kelli O'Hara is radiant, and Steven Pasquale is very good. A mjusical about the two of them--genuinely about the two of them, with minimal time spent on her family (at the beginning and end only)--could be lovely.

Michaelangelo supposedly said sculpting consists of removing everything that's not the statue. I hope that Sher et al choose to carve away everything that's not the famously mushy Bridges of Madison County.

(tdf ticket, 8th row, extreme audience left, surrounded by astonishing rude audience members)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All hail The Mush! I totally agree.