Bridges of Madison County a new Musical to Premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival
by Larry Murray
Update: A lot can happen between January and April, and Kelli O’Hara is no longer slated to play in Bridges of Madison County. Read this [casting update].
Who doesn’t love the book and film The Bridges of Madison County. Now just imagine the gorgeous Kelli O’Hara returning to the Williamstown Theatre Festival to play the central character in this great story – originally played on film by Meryl Streep – when it turns into a musical fable. According to the New York Times, the show, tentatively slated for August 2013, will be directed by Bartlett Sher, who won a Tony directing “South Pacific” in 2008, once again reuniting with that show’s leading actress, Kelli O’Hara. Unless I miss my guess, it is a new and promising musical that will be the talk of the Berkshire summer.
“As reported in the New York Times this morning, we will be presenting a world premiere musical of The Bridges of Madison County on the Main Stage as part of the 2013 Williamstown Theatre Festival season. Based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, the show features a book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Marsha Norman and score by Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown. Tony Award-winner Bartlett Sher will direct Kelli O’Hara as she returns to the Festival stage following her transcendent performance in 2012’s Far From Heaven. The season announcement is forthcoming in a few weeks, and full details will be available then.” — Jenny Gersten, Artistic Director, Williamstown Theatre Festival
Kelli O’Hara said that the musical will have a different slant than the film. “We are doing the younger version of the love affair – so, we’re sticking closer to the words in the book,” she said.
About the possibility of a future New York transfer, the Times went on to say that “Ms. Gersten and Mr. Sher said there were no plans to take the show to Broadway at this point. But given the star power involved, a successful outing in Williamstown could lead to a New York run. That was the route for “Far From Heaven,” which Williamstown produced (and Ms. O’Hara starred in) last summer and which opens Off Broadway this spring.”
The Bridges of Madison County is the story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County (there are 19 of them), and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for fulfillment of a girlhood dream. It portrays what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.
Work on the show begins almost immediately. The creative team is gearing up for a mid-January reading of the material. While casting for the reading is not yet known, it is hard to imagine it happening without the principals already announced being there.
Kelli O’Hara has been nominated for four Tony Awards, including three for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in The Pajama Game, South Pacificand Nice Work If You Can Get It. Her first nomination was for her featured role in The Light in the Piazza.
Kelli O’Hara played the role of Dot/Marie in the L.A. Reprise! concert staging of Sunday in the Park with George. She can be heard as the voice of producer Beth Totenbag on PBS’s 2008 animated series Click and Clack’s As the Wrench Turns. As of December 2012, she is starring on Broadway in Nice Work if You Can Get It.
Bartlett Sher served as associate artistic director at Hartford Stage (Hartford, Connecticut) and company director at the Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis, Minnesota) where he worked with Garland Wright, who was a mentor as was Robert Woodruff. Sher has directed, taught and led workshops across the country and internationally. He was Artistic Director at Intiman Theatre in Seattle and in 2008 was named Resident Director at Lincoln Center Theatre in New York City.
Marsha Norman (book) is an American playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. She received the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play ‘night, Mother. She wrote the book and lyrics for such Broadway musicals as The Secret Garden, for which she won a Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical, and The Red Shoes, as well as the libretto for the musical The Color Purple.
Jason Robert Brown (score) has been hailed as “one of Broadway’s smartest and most sophisticated songwriters since Stephen Sondheim” (Philadelphia Inquirer), and his “extraordinary, jubilant theater music ” (Chicago Tribune) has been heard all over the world, whether in one of the hundreds of productions of his musicals every year or in his own incendiary live performances. The New York Times refers to Jason as “a leading member of a new generation of composers who embody high hopes for the American musical.”
Jason is the composer and lyricist of the musical, “The Last Five Years,” which was cited as one of Time Magazine’s 10 Best of 2001 and won Drama Desk Awards for Best Music and Best Lyrics. Jason won a 1999 Tony Award for his score to “Parade“, a musical written with Alfred Uhry and directed by Harold Prince, which premiered at Lincoln Center Theatre in December 1998, and subsequently won both the Drama Desk and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards for Best New Musical. “Parade” was also presented on a national tour in 2000, which Jason conducted.