"The Bridges of Madison County" was a hit novel in 1992 (spending three years on the New York Times best seller list) and a successful move in 1995 (starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood).
Now, the 2014 Broadway musical version of the romantic drama is coming April 26-May 1 to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach.
The stage show has a book written by Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman ("The Secret Garden," "The Color Purple," "'night, Mother") and Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown ("Parade," "The Last Five Years," "Honeymoon in Vegas").
Like the original book by Robert James Waller, the musical version is set in 1965 and is about lonely, married Francesca, a former war bride from Italy who is living on a farm in Madison County, Iowa. When her husband and children leave for a few days to compete in a 4-H fair, Francesca meets Robert, a National Geographic photographer in town to shoot the famous covered bridges. Their romance means that Francesca has to make a choice on how to spend the remainder of her life.
Brown, who won Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations for the show, recently spoke about the show during a phone interview.
Where do you keep your Tonys?
I keep them in my studio. I have a bookshelf. But here's the weird thing: The two "Bridges" Tonys are actually taller than the "Parade" Tony Award. I guess in the ensuing years, the statues got taller. Now, my "Bridges" Tonys are looking down on the "Parade" Tony in a condescending manner.
Was there a mantra you kept in mind while composing the score?
[The novel] is very maudlin. It's very goopy and sentimental, and I didn't particularly want to write that. The thing that we kept in mind was, as far as we were concerned, these were real people … and to not get trapped by the book or the movie into making them some sort of icons. They were real people in a tough situation.
What can the musical do that the book and film could not?
The music and lyrics tell us something about their inner lives that ordinary dialogue can't do. We can track the precise path of this romance. We can see how it germinates inside their heads … and how they make the decision to act on it. The music can be the internal because, essentially, they are very protective people. Robert is not a character who naturally is going to talk a lot. This is how to give his emotional life a voice. You need both of the characters to be strong onstage.
What is your work process?
Marsha and I sit down together and figure out what the general shape of the piece is, how many events occur and what happens in each event. Is that a musical event or not a musical event? Then, she goes away and lays out the show, and as she does it, she sends it to me. When it comes to the story, I'm trying to figure out what do [the characters] want, where are they, as a dramatist and a composer. Usually, I come up with the title of the song, something I can hold on to, to hook into the song. I may or may not keep that. Eventually, I just start making disparate strands. It's a slow process. It's more intuitive than I ever know how to articulate.
What did you mean when you said that the show didn't get a fair shake in New York, opening in February 2014 and closing four months later?
I'm not sure I said that. But for whatever the reason, "Bridges of Madison County" was not a long run. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a success. It touched people enormously. I think we get caught up in what is a success and [not] what is good. I think it's a really beautiful piece, and [it is] work I'm enormously proud of."
"The Bridges of Madison County" runs April 26-May 1 at Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Ticket cost $27-$72. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org.