Laundry lines. Walls made of doors and windows. With no curtain to hide the set, Aurora Theatre invites the audience into the world of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY the minute they walk in the door.
The music in BRIDGES showcases some of composer Jason Robert Brown’s best work. There’s no question every time Kristin Markiton (Francesca) and Travis Smith (Robert) open their mouths to sing, pure gold emerges. Brown’s Tony Award-winning score comes to life brilliantly in the hands of Aurora’s performers. Were this an in-concert performance, the show would be nearly flawless. But it’s primarily in the execution of the book that this piece falters.
BRIDGES tells the story of Francesca, a housewife left alone at home for three days as her husband and bickering children leave on an unexciting trip. When a handsome stranger, Robert, knocks on her door asking for directions, what Francesca had envisioned as a quiet weekend alone becomes a whirlwind affair that causes her to question where her priorities really lie.
The first act’s story coasts on introduction of characters, inciting incidents, and sexual tension, but the beginning of act two reveals the aforementioned plot preliminaries are all the narrative has to offer. The show is then left with an empty second half that runs out of steam, kept afloat only by the music. Pick any song involving the two leads, and it could be considered the best in the show, rounded out with minimal but sufficient company involvement.
We could talk forever about the excellent symbolism communicated in the set: walls made of frames constructed from household doors and windows, and how these set elements represent the connection between Francesca and Robert, and so on. And then there’s the realistic kitchen, which maybe has microphones in the kitchen cabinets? Whatever attention to detail enabled the cabinets to close loudly enough to be heard around the theatre was not wasted. Ironically, the same cannot be said for the sound mixing of many spoken lines which were drowned out by background music.
Kristin Markiton as Francesca soars on her expert vocal skills, though she lacks much more. Her nearly expressionless performance as the central character falls flat, leaving much to be desired and many questions about her character at the end. Rather than a woman torn between staying with her family and running off to her romantic fantasy, her one-dimensional portrayal comes across as altogether indifferent.
Known to Aurora audiences as Huey Calhoun, the graceless DJ with a heart of gold from 2015’s production of MEMPHIS, Smith is anything but awkward as Robert. His voice enraptures the audience from the first moment he sings, and his stirring portrayal embodies the ultimate dreamlike hunk with his every movement, while simultaneously carrying a very sweet quality as well.
The Bridges of Madison County is presented through April 16. A discount matinee will be offered on Wednesday, March 29 at 10 a.m. with tickets starting at $20. Regular tickets range from $30-$65 and can be purchased online at tickets.auroratheatre.com or by calling the Box Office at 678-226-6222.
Photo credit: Chris Bartelski