BY SANDY STAGGS
The Mill Town Players kicks off their 9th amazing season with a majestic, sophisticated and tender musical adaptation, The Bridges of Madison County.
Based on the book by Robert James Waller (and one of the best-selling novels of the 20th century at 60 million), and the film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, The Bridges of Madison County is epic in scope yet strikingly intimate, breathtakingly beautiful in its lighting design, and cleverly directed and choreographed by Mary Nickles (Bright Star and many other hits at MTP).
Featuring a fantastic LIVE orchestra playing the score by Jason Robert Brown (the darling songwriter of The Last Five Years and Songs for a New World) and book by Marsha Norman (Pulitzer Prize winner for ‘Night Mother), this musical version expands the romance between forlorn Midwestern housewife and a traveling photographer on assignment the National Geographic, and fleshes out the husband, children and even a “Mrs. Kravitz” neighbor.
Whereas the novel was from the photographer’s perspective and the film uses flashbacks, Bridges the musical is Francesca’s story and show. And Brittany Hogan Alomar gives an exquisite performance with precision and vocal artistry, and a spot-on Italian accent.
Portraying the aloof loner Robert Kincaid is newcomer to MTP, the dashing Jake Wesley, whose character falls head over heels for an unfulfilled farm wife and mother, while shooting the covered bridges in 1965 Madison, Iowa. Scenic designer and executive Artistic Director Will Ragland also articulates these bridges with a series pf cascading “timber” structures.
But the real action happens in Francesca’s kitchen and yes, her bedroom in a couple of very intimate (and tasteful, strictly PG) scenes and even a vocal performance in bed.
Nancy Burkard (a MTP comedic treasure) with the top-notch Bruce Meahl are the nosy neighbors and best pals who provide some fine young Ma and Pa Kettle encounters as Charlie and Marge.
The always-impressive Rick Connor (“You’re Never Alone”) plays the husband Bud, and the sparkling duo Alyson Burrell and Seth Hilderbrand explore sibling chemistry and rivalry as teenagers Carolyn and Michael Johnson, who are all off to to a steer competition at the State Fair.
This production also features singer Lindsay Polowczuk in delightful roles as Marian (“Another Life”) Robert’s ex-wife, and as Francesca’s sister Chiara in two splendid fantasy sequences.
Ensemble: Reece Brandt, Lauren Laxton, Colin Moroney, and Morgan Parrish.
The difficult music (directed by Julie Florin) blends classical, contemporary, folk and some country with enchanting ballads and duets such as “Wondering,” “Look At Me,” “Falling Into You,” and “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles,” but other gems include Wesley’s moving “It All Fades Away, Burkard and the radio singers in the spunky “Get Closer,” and Meahl and Connor in the haunting (and beautifully staged) “When I’m Gone.”
Assistant Director is Thelma Cope, Stage Manager is Lois Hade, Tony Penna is lighting designer and Betsy Allardice is costume designer.
The Bridges of Madison County is a gorgeous production with stellar vocal work and splendid production values, but the Broadway show has been criticized for its lugubrious pace. Bridges the musical (not this production per se) does take its time in its storytelling, but the payoff is Upstate talent in fine form and the belief in unrequited love.
The Bridges of Madison County by Mill Town Players continues through Oct. 16 at the Historic Pelzer Auditorium, 214 Lebby Street in Pelzer, SC. More info at www.milltownplayers.org.