Although The Bridges of Madison County closed its Broadway run on May 18, the original cast recording is now available both digitally and in stores. And although the critical reception of the production as a whole had been lukewarm at best, the album preserves at least two of the things that garnered the most praise: the performance of musical comedy diva Kelli O’Hara, and the score by Jason Robert Brown. Indeed, these earned two of the show’s four Tony nominations—insufficient perhaps to keep the theater lights shining at Broadway prices, but certainly worthy of preservation.
It is a score that has some fine music, and if O’Hara’s performance is something special, the other performances are right up there as well—you don’t get cast in a Broadway musical if you can’t sing, and this is a talented cast that handles the music with verve. Unfortunately this adaptation of the story of a woman who chooses family over passion may suffer, like its other versions, from a perception of soppy sentimentality endemic to the material. That may be a problem for the show; it is not necessarily a problem for the music.
Steven Pasquale, who plays the hunky photographer, has the kind of romantic voice and physical presence that makes Francesca’s (O’Hara) passion believable, whether it is in his first number “Temporarily Lost” or his final piece “It All Fades Away.” Hunter Foster, as the husband Bud, is the model of the work and responsibility he sings about in “You’re Never Alone.” The contrast between him and Robert, between dreams and real life, is made abundantly clear in “Something From a Dream.” Other highlights include Cass Morgan’s “Get Closer,” a nice bluesy change of pace, and the Act II opening bluegrass number, “State Road 21.”
But clearly it is Kelli O’Hara who sits atop the show. She opens it with a beautiful “To Build A Home” and closes it with “Always Better.” The first act ends with “Falling Into You,” a wonderful duet with Pasquale. It is a bravura performance. There isn’t a piece of music she sings, solo or duet, that she doesn’t own—“Almost Real,” “Look at Me,” “What Do You Call a Man Like That?,” “Before and After You”—this is her show. It is unfortunate if the show itself let her down, but the music does not.