In yet another remarkable instance of Dayton’s big-city-small-town dynamic, we witness the wealth of arts found in large metros that’s still accessible for all potential audiences. Now through March 20, the touring cast of The Bridges of Madison County will be performing at the Schuster Center in Dayton as its makes its limited run around the country. Dayton is fortunate to land one of these few performances, and tickets start at just $25.
Those who are familiar with the story of Bridges will find the musical closely follows, but takes some creative departures. Here with their reflections and comparisons are Megan Cooper and Val Beerbower, cultural arts enthusiasts.
VB: This adaptation from book to musical bypasses some of the conventions used to adapt the book to the 1995 film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. The musical pulled out story lines from other characters, including the neighbors, who offer a little comedic relief. We also get to know lead female character Francesca’s family better through the musical, which gives the story more depth.
MC: Reviews of the film are lopsided because people loved the acting and the actors but weren’t wild about the script. Fortunately, the musical avoids this fate because they introduced these additional storylines. Additionally, the musical provides a little extra closure between the characters you don’t get in the film. One could argue that if you didn’t care for the film, you should see the musical, thanks to these adaptations.
VB: The musical styles selected by the composer (Jason Robert Brown, The Last Five Years, Parade, Songs for a New World) reflect another kind of adaptation. Italian-born Francesca is somewhat of a misfit as a housewife on an Iowa farm, and her solos are sweeping arias that are more opera than musical. It’s an interesting way to juxtapose a character using the songs themselves as the medium.
MC: Agreed, the music was phenomenal. You might not catch yourself humming the tunes the next day, but they are very well composed and do a great job of conveying the story. The music moves the plot along rather than create a distraction. Likewise, the set design was very simplistic and not distracting. The set cleverly employed the actors to move the staging around, and the actors’ movements coupled with strategic lighting cued you into whether they were an active part of the scene or simply adding background.
VB: It was unusual that in the musical – a story about a photographer shooting covered bridges – you didn’t really see a single physical bridge in the play. But it worked because your focus was on the actors.
MC: Don’t worry, there are still plenty of covered bridges to see in the Schuster’s gallery spaces. The current display, “The Bridges of the Miami Valley,” presented by the Visual Art Center of Preble County, showcases an array of paintings, sculptures, and other locally produced works of art depicting the Dayton region’s covered bridges.