Marriott's 'Bridges of Madison County' a heartbreaker in Lincolnshire debut

Thank heaven that the Marriott Theatre took a chance on “The Bridges of Madison County.” This 2014 adaptation of Robert James Waller's best-selling 1992 novel may not have lasted long on Broadway, but it truly blossoms as a major musical heartbreaker in Lincolnshire.

This contemplative story of a hasty marital affair in 1965 rural Iowa gains intensity thanks to director Nick Bowling's ingenious mastery of Marriott's intimate center-stage space. Theater lovers likely won't see such a sterling take on “The Bridges of Madison County” in the future since the Marriott has attracted top-flight artists both behind the scenes and onstage.

Casting is crucial, especially since the Tony Award-winning score by Jason Robert Brown (“Parade,” “The Last Five Years”) demands so much range as it encompasses musical styles both folksy and operatic. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman's highly emotional script - about the love affair between an Italian immigrant war bride living in Iowa and a National Geographic photographer who comes to town to shoot pictures of covered bridges - also poses a challenge as it hopscotches in time to reveal helpful back stories.

Leads Kathy Voytko as Francesca and Nathaniel Stampley as Robert share loads of charisma and generate the much-needed romantic sparks. And their soaring vocals are a dream.

Francesca's neighbors Marge (Wydetta Carter) and Charlie (Terry Hamilton) spy on her and the "photographer in the blue truck" in "The Bridges of Madison County." The musical makes its Chicago-area debut at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through Sunday, Aug. 13. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Marriott Theatre

The supporting cast is strong as well. Bart Shatto plays Francesca's farmer husband Bud with a down-to-earth authenticity, and Brooke MacDougal and Tanner Hake are just right as Francesca's children Carolyn and Michael, annoying siblings forever getting on each other's nerves while on a trip with their father.

Wydetta Carter and Terry Hamilton form the perfect comic duo as Francesca's nosy neighbors Marge and Charlie, who take note of the photographer's presence while Francesca's husband is away. The rest of the ensemble moves well thanks to William Carlos Angulo's effective bursts of choreography.

Iowa farmer Bud (Bart Shatto), right, shows a picture of his Italian wife, Francesca, to a fellow bar patron (Brandon Springman) in "The Bridges of Madison County" at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Marriott Theatre

Bowling's cinematic and fluid direction is cleverly assisted by the entire production team. With seemingly stark wooden platforms and walls, set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec and projection designer Anthony Churchill capture both the beautifully flat expanse of Iowa while also conveying Francesca's boxed-in feelings as a dissatisfied housewife. Kmiec uses the auditorium's wraparound walls to suggest the audience is sitting inside a covered bridge.

Lighting designer Jesse Klug also helps control the dramatic focus, bringing vital luminosity to the characters at key moments, such as when Robert sings about the importance of capturing the right natural light for his photos.

This delicate musical may have been bruised on Broadway, but it truly thrives in Lincolnshire. Marriott's “The Bridges of Madison County” is a show to savor.

“The Bridges of Madison County”

★ ★ ★ ½

Location: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200 or

Showtimes: 1 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, with select 1 p.m. Thursday shows; through Aug. 13

Running time: About two hours and 40 minutes with intermission

Tickets: $50-$60

Parking: Adjacent lots with valet service available

Rating: For teens and older; contains adultery and mild drug use

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