The national tour of the musical The Bridges of Madison County launched last weekend at the Des Moines Civic Center. The story is based on the popular novel published in the 90s about a traveling photographer who is sent to Winterset to shoot the bridges for a magazine. He meets a married farm wife and the two fall in love during a week long affair.
The two leading roles are played by New York actors Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley. Last October they came to Winterset to experience the settings of the story during the annual Covered Bridge Festival. They previewed some of the show by singing selections from the steps of the county courthouse. Their weekend visit also included a quiet tour of the red wood painted Roseman Bridge nestled in the middle of farmland.
Elizabeth Stanley plays the part of Francesca and as she walks on this 132 year-old bridge for the first time, she notices the hundreds of written notes scattered on the interior. "The sort of love notes of you know, we were here, we fell in love forever or you know I’m still waiting," says Stanley. "To me... the personal mementos people left, I didn’t expect that."
Andrew Samonsky plays the part of the photographer Robert. He says being here on the bridge where his character forms a bond with Francesca will influence his theater performance. "For my character Robert who never thought he was going to really love someone, and to have met the woman I think that he thinks he’s supposed spend the rest of his life with and that this bridge is really what signifies that, that’s special to be here and to feel the weight of that kind of moment for my character," says Samonsky.
The Bridges of Madison County debuted on Broadway in February 2014, but closed after three months. The music was written by Jason Robert Brown. He says while he wanted the show to run longer, it wasn’t something new for him. "You know I write shows and they don’t tend to run for very long in New York, which is fine," says Brown.
Since the summer, the production has been preparing in New York. One week before the national launch of the touring version, Brown and the entire crew arrive to Des Moines Civic Center for the final rehearsals.
Brown is in his mid 40s and has written about a dozen musicals. He’s won Tony Awards including two for his work on The Bridges of Madison County. Brown developed the music based on the story adaptation by Marsha Norman, but he didn’t visit Madison County until after he was finished writing. As to the famous 1995 movie version, he hasn't seen it.
Brown says the source of this musical is the novel, but this stage version focuses more on Francesca, a woman from Italy who has been married to an Iowan for many years.
"The novel has very little of the community within it, whereas our show is very much about the community that Francesca lives in," says Brown. "It’s really about the town of Winterset and her experience as an outsider in this place and how they welcome her in, and also how they exclude her and how they react and how she feels that reaction to when all of the events the story happen."
Brown is conducting the orchestra during the Des Moines performances because he says it's rare for a short lived Broadway show to get a chance to tour. He also wants to stay connected to it for as long as possible, but he will relinquish the baton for 15 of the 18 cities the show plays in through July.
The Bridges of Madison County concludes its week long Iowa run at the Des Moines Civic Center on Saturday, then it moves to Los Angeles where it will play for five weeks.