Monday, October 30, 2017

Cross Bridges to Go Hear Beautiful "Bridges of Madison County"

Megan Renae Parker and Randy Scholz in Bridges of Madison County (Chris Bennion)
Bridges of Madison County
Showtunes Theatre Company
(at ACT Theatre)
through November 5, 2017

Showtunes Theatre Company is giving us a holiday gift - their usual practice of one weekend shows is extending to two, which means you absolutely can read this and still plan on going next weekend!

Maybe this will be a new normal, but no matter right now, because now you have to make tracks to see this staged musical and their two amazing leads. You may be familiar with the book by Robert Waller or the movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. It's the weepy romantic story of a tired Iowa housewife who has a life-changing affair with a magazine photographer. Wipe those iterations from your brain. 

The musical, with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, hews closely to the story of an Italian war-bride who makes a marriage of convenience and a life as a farm wife, eventually with two teenagers. An accidental meeting with a photographer on assignment who is taking shots of covered bridges in Madison County lures her into a surprise love affair.

Showtunes always has wonderful talent in their staged concerts, because their unique 29-hour rehearsal schedule is short enough to allow many top professionals to squeeze a couple of weeks into their schedule. But this group is, even so, uniquely well cast for the rolls in this musical.

Tyler Dobies and Bethanie Willis play the two teens, with gumption and sass. Greg Allen plays the husband, Bud, with a stalwart salt-of-the-earth quality that is just lovely and makes you really question why we like seeing adultery go on in this story! Carolyn Magoon and Lanny Mitchell are the sort-of nosey neighbors who really know what's happening but decide to be gracious and act like they don't.

But if you have to do a piece that makes you believe that two people on stage are really falling in love, you must must must have actors who can sing their guts out and also have chemistry together. Megan Renae Parker for Francesca is almost a no-brainer here, for her operatic singing ability and her calm, radiant manner. But a less-obvious choice for Robert is Randy Scholz. Scholz is a terrific musical theater performer, but often, so far, he's done rolls where he is either specifically cast younger or in rolls with less gravitas and definitely less lower singing register.

I have to say that when Scholz walks onto the stage as Robert and looks at Francesca with dawning wonder, he just instantly slayed me! Holy cow, did the sparks fly! Then he gets to sing this wonderful music with a lower register that I did not really know he possessed. He has a rich, mellow, full sound that is perfect for this man-on-my-own character.

Parker's and Scholz's chemistry is off the charts. They make this musical as believable as can be, even if you don't really like all the sap and the questionable morality! They make you forget that their love might jeopardize the lovely family she already has.

This is not likely to be a musical coming to any other Seattle stage as a full production any time soon. So, do go see it, especially knowing that the leads are as good as you are gonna get.

(I forgot to mention the absolutely stellar orchestra, led by Nathan Young....! He leads them in the original ten piece orchestration, which is also unusual for Showtunes!)

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