“I can’t tell you I know what the future will be. Who knows anything?”
Though often cited as one of the titans of new musical theatre writing, I think it is fair to say that Jason Robert Brown has never managed to nail a proper commercial hit on Broadway. Despite the critical acclaim and cult status that has built up around shows like Parade and The Last Five Years, the Great White Way has resisted his charms and in 2014, it was the turn of his musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County to last barely even 4 months the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
And as is so often the case, it is hard to tell why, just from listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Based on the Robert James Waller novel, further popularised by an Academy Award-nominated film adaptation, it is a sweepingly romantic story and it is given the sweepingly romantic treatment here by JRB. And with a cast led by Kelli O’Hara (possibly too young for the middle-aged disillusionment meant to characterise the tale) and Steven Pasquale, it sounds just gorgeous.
There’s swooning duets aplenty, in the likes of ‘Wondering’, ‘Falling Into You’ and ‘Before and After You/One Second & A Million Miles’; genuinely insightful solo numbers for each, O’Hara’s ‘Almost Real’ and Pasquale’s ‘Temporarily Lost’; and variety offered up in the contrasting emotions of the supporting players – Whitney Bashor’s plaintive ‘Another Life’ and Hunter Foster’s poignant ‘Something From A Dream’ giving us the perspective of the other partners.
And the hints of Americana lend almost a country-pop feel to some of the songs, blended with the Broadway sensibility feels like a strong mix, giving a real sense of identity to the piece that makes it stand out. Perhaps it is another show destined to gain cult status but there’s little here to suggest why it couldn’t find audiences at the time.