Seven-time Jeff Award-winner Nick Bowling lobbied hard to direct Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire's regional premiere of "The Bridges of Madison County."
Bowling loves the folksy and romantic score of "The Bridges of Madison County" by composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown. Though the 2014 musical had a short Broadway run, Brown triumphed at the Tony Awards that season with wins for both best original score and best orchestrations.
"The Bridges of Madison County"Location: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com
Showtimes: 1 and 8 p.m. Wednesday (no matinee Wednesday, June 21); 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday; from Wednesday, June 21, through Sunday, Aug. 13
"This score is really perhaps Brown's best," said Bowling of the musical, which was co-created with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman. "It's a really magical and amazing score."
But it is Bowling's background as an Iowa native of small-town Sumner that made him feel particularly attuned to the material. Both the musical and a 1995 Hollywood film version are based upon Robert James Waller's best-selling 1992 novel, which is set in the 1960s and centered around the small Iowa town of Winterset.
"Anyone from Iowa has a fascination and a sort-of love with 'The Bridges of Madison County,' because we only have a few movies to our credit," said Bowling. "I have a fondness for the story and always have."
Bowling says he enjoyed his small-town childhood, but he points out the whole community knows who you are, your family and your business.
"When I go back now for reunions and to visit friends, often people know I'm home way before I tell anyone I'm there because they spot a car that is different with Illinois plates," Bowling said. "So a trip out to the bridges on a dirt road means that you're going to drive by someone that you know. It's inevitable."
Set against that kind of small-town backdrop, the musical centers on an affair that develops between an unhappy Italian immigrant housewife named Francesca and Robert, a visiting magazine photographer on assignment to capture the region's famed covered bridges.
"It's such a beautiful setting for something to happen when there is somebody in a place where they don't quite fit in," Bowling said. "The inciting incident of this whole musical is of an unhappy woman longing for something else."
Bowling said Brown's "Bridges of Madison County" score can be difficult to sing. Yet his first priority in casting was finding strong actors who could sing rather than the other way around.
So Bowling feels lucky to have Marriott Theatre veterans Kathy Voytko and Nathaniel Stampley cast as the central romantic couple. Both have multiple Broadway credits, plus past Jeff Award wins. Stampley most recently won best actor in a musical as Don Quixote in Bowling's 2016 production of "Man of La Mancha" for the Marriott.
"There's a calm peacefulness and goodness about Nate that comes through and I find incredibly appealing," Bowling said. "And then there is Kathy, who is astonishing. She is able to do many things, and even though she is not Italian, she plays Italian so often that she brings a great quality and understanding to the stage."
The Marriott's local premiere of "The Bridges of Madison County" continues what is shaping up to be a big year for Jason Robert Brown in the suburbs.
Brown's previous Tony Award-winning show "Parade" is now at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, while Marriott stages the regional premiere of Brown's 2015 Broadway musical comedy "Honeymoon in Vegas" starting in August. Brown's most-produced show, "The Last Five Years," will be produced in September by Winnetka Community Theatre in Des Plaines.
"Jason Robert Brown is the musician's musician. Brown's level of composition is so broad stylistically, and the quality of songwriting is so high," said Marriott Theatre resident music director Ryan Nelson. "All of his shows are completely different musically and very specific."