The beginning of things

Bucks County Playhouse presents The Bridges of Madison County

3 minute read
A bedroom scene: Rodriquez, in a shirt and jeans, ecstatically lifts Baldwin, wearing a yellow dress. They’re both barefoot.

In queer circles, I have been thinking about New Relationship Energy for the better part of the last decade: the initial spark of attraction, when chemicals are shooting like rockets, stories and jokes are still fresh, and annoying habits and quirks well-hidden. It’s lovely, it’s addictive. A friend recently called the same dynamic “the beginning of things.” The beginning of things is intoxicating because it’s all possibility. This sexual charge and hope course through the veins of a sumptuous The Bridges of Madison County, now onstage at Bucks County Playhouse.

Directed by Hunter Foster (who was in the original Broadway company of the show), this Bridges stars Tony nominee Kate Baldwin as Francesca, a Neapolitan housewife living in rural Iowa with her husband (Bart Shatto). When he and their two kids (Thomas Cromer and Emily Pellecchia) leave for the Indiana State Fair, Fran is left to her own devices. Enter mysterious loner Robert (Nicholas Rodriguez), a National Geographic photographer who is in town on assignment to photograph the titular bridges. They begin a quick and intense affair that awakens the two lovers to themselves and leads them to a crossroads.

While the story could veer into the tawdry or overly sentimental, Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics and Marsha Norman’s book ground the show in a complicated reality of marital frustration and sexual-romantic passion. The script never condemns Francesca, and it also never lets us forget that despite her passion for Robert, she is deeply tied to her husband and children. Brown’s score is a stunner. Under Kieth Levenson’s able music direction, the production's nine-piece orchestra sounds top-notch. Across the board, the score is well-sung. Giuliana Augello is a particularly surprising delight in Act One’s “Another Life.”

Ultimately, this show belongs to the two lovers. Baldwin fills her performance with richness and nuance, and her beautiful soprano is more than capable of handling the challenges of Brown’s ambitious score. The strength of her performance could easily overshadow her male counterpart, but Rodriguez brings a surprising depth and tenderness to the strong, quiet heartthrob. His voice meets Baldwin’s ably. Their act two duet, “One Second and a Million Miles,” is pretty close to transcendent. The two actors have known each other for more than 20 years, and their chemistry explodes off the stage. While the romance is rushed in the story, the intensity of their feelings feels authentic to that new relationship fire.

The show is elegant throughout—Anna Louizos’s minimalist yet evocative set pairs fantastically with Paul Miller’s beautiful lighting. The set, as designed, requires a lot of moving, always from actors in character. This often works to help give Madison County a sense of place and community. Sometimes, though, it can crowd the stage and feel a little menacing. There is certainly a textual reason why Foster would highlight the omnipresence of the town’s watchful eye, but early on, I found myself wanting the couple to get some room to breathe.

Above: This show belongs to the lovers: Kate Baldwin and Nicholas Rodriquez in The Bridges of Madison County at Bucks County Playhouse. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

What, When, Where

The Bridges of Madison County. Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, book by Marsha Norman; directed by Hunter Foster. $32-$65. Through September 10, 2023, at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S Main Street, New Hope. (215) 862-2121 or


Bucks County Playhouse is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Assistive listening devices are available.

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