CEDAR RAPIDS — I hated pretty much everything about “The Bridges of Madison County,” the movie.
I loved absolutely everything about “The Bridges of Madison County,” the musical.
Revival Theatre Company has quickly established itself as the go-to troupe for musical staging excellence in the Corridor. And this new production, which opened Thursday and runs through Sunday in Dows Fine Arts Center at Coe College, is full of brilliance:
l The cast’s killer voices and Cameron Sullenberger’s exceptional orchestra embracing Jason Robert Brown’s majestic musical score.
l Scott Olinger’s genius scenery and lighting design that turn a simple, long platform into a covered bridge, a bedroom and a lane beckoning a flight to freedom or pointing the way home.
l Kristen Geisler’s beautiful projections on the ceiling and video screens around the auditorium, that instantly envelop the characters and audiences in the night sky, passing scenery, lush green landscapes, kitchen windows and an old-fashioned, ornate ceiling medallion in a vintage farmhouse.
l Director Brian Glick’s masterful, lovely staging of a story full of heart and heartbreak, set in rural Iowa in 1965.
l The joy and anguish Christina Farrell and Aaron Brewer bring to their lead roles of Francesca, an Italian war bride who married an American soldier and moved half a world away from bombed-out Naples to bucolic Iowa, and Robert Kincaid, a globe-trotting National Geographic photographer who drives up her dusty lane to ask directions to the remote Roseman Covered Bridge.
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Their meeting ignites a passion each had long forgotten, sending them on a four-day, whirlwind romance that will haunt them the rest of their lives. He offers her an escape from her mundane life, with a hold neither can ever escape, and a lifetime of “what ifs.”
Farrell, a classically trained soprano, and Brewer, an elite actor who has dazzled local audiences with leads in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Rent,” are perfectly matched in power, nuance and facility. They embody their characters completely, and their anguish is palpable as their epic moment in time brings choices neither one wants to make. And their romance turns up the heat in an already hot summer daze.
The musical improves upon the movie, bringing Francesca’s family out of the shadows and into the spotlight, as they travel to Indianapolis to show a prized steer in the national 4-H competition. Their truck quickly fills up, leaving no room for Francesca to go along. She happily agrees to stay home, looking forward to some quiet time alone.
Joshua Fryvecind plays her husband, Bud, with just the right dash of salt-of-the-earth farm sensibilities and dawning realization that something is very wrong at home in his absence. His country music has just a hint of twang throughout, mixed with an ominous warning on “You Are Never Alone.” That’s an overarching theme in staging the rest of the actors on the periphery, giving a nod to “Our Town,” as well as the way neighbors know each other’s business in a small town.
Jan McCool and Michael Cervantes are perfectly cast as neighbors Marge and Charlie. She keeps tabs on the mysterious goings-on next door, while he keeps her nosiness in check — akin to a nicer Gladys Kravitz and a not-quite-as-long-suffering Abner Kravitz from “Bewitched.”
She puts a hilarious spin on her song, “Get Closer,” near the end of Act I. And even though it’s jazzed up by a doo-wop trio, they rein it all in so Francesca and Robert can tenderly slow-dance to it in the kitchen.
Charlie and Bud tug at our heartstrings on the bluesy “When I’m Gone,” near the end of the show.
Other kudos go to Jackson Bartelme and Lily Gast as the squabbling siblings Michael and Carolyn; to Marjorie Gast with a couple of great songs as Robert’s ex-wife, Marian, and the State Fair singer; and Marita May, a classically trained violinist who whips up a fiddling hoedown.
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This production is something very special, and totally deserving of its opening night standing ovation.
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; email@example.com
IF YOU GO
l What: Revival Theatre Company presents: “The Bridges of Madison County”
l Where: Dows Fine Arts Center, Coe College, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
l When: Through Sunday (6/3); 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
l Rated: PG-13 for mature subject matter
l Run time: 2 hours 40 minutes, including intermission
l Tickets: $40 general admission, Paramount Box Office, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com; $20 student tickets through box office only
l Details: Revivaltheatrecompany.com/the-bridges-of-madison-county/