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A Bridge between two people: 'Madison County' musical expands focus of heartland romance

TINT

Aaron Brewer and Christina Farrell, both of Cedar Rapids, star in Revival Theatre Company’s production of “The Bridges of Madison County.” The musical, springing from the book and movie set in Iowa, opens May 31 and runs through June 3 in Dows Fine Arts Center at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
TINT Aaron Brewer and Christina Farrell, both of Cedar Rapids, star in Revival Theatre Company’s production of “The Bridges of Madison County.” The musical, springing from the book and movie set in Iowa, opens May 31 and runs through June 3 in Dows Fine Arts Center at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
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The musical version of “The Bridges of Madison County” is full of “what-ifs” — one of the biggest being an educational opportunity for Revival Theatre Company’s artistic director, Brian Glick.

He was in New York in 2014 when the show springing from the 1992 best-selling novel was playing on Broadway. When he spotted the theater marquee, he admitted thinking, “Well, this can’t be anything good.”

The music and some video clips changed his mind.

“I was quick to judge the piece,” said Glick, who was no fan of the movie, set in Winterset, Iowa. “ ... I learned a great lesson from that.”

Digging deeper into the musical, he discovered a different take on the story. It still follows the tale penned by the late Robert James Waller, who was teaching at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls at the time.

“The musical gives the story more dynamic and perspective on the characters and the people of Iowa and of small towns,” said Glick, 31. Now living in Cedar Rapids, he gained small-town perspective growing up in Olin, a Jones County town with about 700 residents.

The Iowa theme was a bonus when he and Revival Theatre co-founder and musical director Cameron Sullenberger added it to the professional company’s 2018 season. The show opens May 31 and continues through June 3 at Dows Fine Arts Center on the Coe College campus.

The movie focused primarily on farmwife Francesca, an Italian war bride who followed her American soldier to Madison County, Iowa, and Robert Kincaid, the roving “National Geographic” photographer who ends up on her doorstep while her family is out of town in 1965. He’s looking for directions for one of the county’s bridges, and their chance meeting and subsequent conversations ignite a four-day romance that leaves them riddled with “what ifs.”

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The musical, however, introduces neighbors and townfolk who are always on the periphery or stepping into the action, watching and commenting in a manner familiar to rural Iowans — knowing, but not nosy, Glick said. It gives the play more of an “Our Town” observational feel, he added.

“In no way does the show glorify adultery,” he stressed. “It’s about choices, it’s about love. In the end, she feels like she chose right, but what if? We all know what love is like. It’s two people who go further than they should have, and let’s not be quick to judge. ... We’re really trying to make every character — including Francesca, including Robert — empathetic. He’s not out to show up in town to cause some damage — it just happens.”

The music crosses genres, from classical to country, and ties it all together.

“The score is just so lovely,” he added. “I’m all about mining pieces that not everyone is maybe onto or is quick to judge, like me, and put it off. I investigated it and (thought), ‘Wait a minute. This is something special.

With music and lyrics by Tony-winner Jason Robert Brown, Glick said, “I love the take on the opera aspect of it and the musical theater meshing together.”

The principal actors agree.

“The thing that first drew me to the show was the music,” said Christina Farrell, 42, of Cedar Rapids, a master teaching artist and classical singer who performed for six years with the Washington, D.C., National Opera chorus under the artistic direction of Placido Domingo. “I have a classical singing background, and finding roles in musical theater that really lend themselves to that style of singing is exciting, and this score is just beautiful. It has moments that are just full-out opera, and then some very intimate moments.

“Francesca’s from Italy, so the music has more of an Italian feel to it, but then also, the music really captures rural Iowa,” she said. “I also am really excited about this beautiful love story, and that character, Francesca, is making a really tough choice about things she loves ... and that is a really interesting story to me.”

The music also reeled Aaron Brewer, 34, of Cedar Rapids, into the show. “It won the Tony for best orchestration for a reason,” he said. “I got to see the touring production in Des Moines and actually got to shake hands with Jason Robert Brown as he conducted ... It’s pretty vocally challenging, but there’s tons of solos, and as an actor, you always want a chance to do that if you get the opportunity.”

He’s had the opportunity many times in Corridor productions, rocking out in “American Idiot” at the University of Iowa, as well as in the title role in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and one of the leads in “Rent” at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

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The story line also intrigued Joshua Fryvecind, 44, of North Liberty, who plays Francesca’s husband, Bud.

“The difference between the book and the musical, there’s a lot more Bud in the musical,” he said, “and it brings out a lot of the tensions that she has to go through, and he has to go through, so there’s a lot of good meat in there to play with. The music’s great, but I was ready to get in there and play that sort of role.”

His music has more of a country flair, said Fryvecind, who most recently played the bad guy in Revival’s “Ragtime,” portrayed the father in Giving Tree Theater’s “Fun Home,” and travels to San Francisco to sing the lead role of Bono in the U2 tribute act, Zoo Station.

“It’s a pretty rare opportunity, as well,” Brewer said of the show. “It’s not done very frequently. This is the Eastern Iowa debut, so when you see a new title, it’s a good opportunity.”

“And terribly appropriate for us here,” Fryvecind added. “The title will bring (audiences) in, and hopefully, the music and the story will stick with them.”

“The musical has taken a spin on the book and the movie, so those people who are familiar with the book and the movie are going to get a slightly different take on it in the musical,” Farrell said. “I really think that the musical made some really smart choices about they’re going to reveal about the characters, like a stronger focus on Francesca’s family.”

The show will be performed in the round at Dows theater, with video projections and television screens to enhance the audience experience.

“It’s all about landscapes. It’s all about the scenery,” Glick said is meeting with the design team. “When (the characters) are out and about, you see the corn moving, you see the sunset rising, and you feel like the wind is blowing, and it surrounds everyone in that space.”

Get out!

WHAT: “The Bridges of Madison County”

WHERE: Coe College Dows Fine Arts Center, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

WHEN: May 31 to June 3; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

RATED: PG-13 for mature subject matter

RUN TIME: 2 hours 40 minutes, including intermission

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TICKETS: $40 general admission, Paramount Box Office, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com; $20 student tickets through box office only

DETAILS: Revivaltheatrecompany.com/the-bridges-of-madison-county/

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