Intimate space bolsters steamy love story

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By Bob Evans

The Barn Players found the right combination to present Broadway’s love story, “The Bridges of Madison County” by using the smaller, more intimate space; casting strong leads; giving direction duties to consistently good Eric Magnus; and proving a new show to most metro theatre-goers.

Hats off to Cori Ann Weber for creating a Francesca, a WWII bride from war-torn Naples who makes choices that affect her life and hinder her from reaching her potential and never realizing if those choices led to the best results. Weber plays the part with such intense feelings yet restrained sensitivity. Her characterization is crucial to the success of the show. Weber needs to refrain from creating too much chemistry with the two male co-stars or the theatre magic will not explode. She must remain yearning for more yet not over-reach. The slippery-slope allows Weber to own the part, show her desires, and show her restraint while the audience follows her unspoken emotional peaks.

“The Bridges of Madison County” ran for about 100 performances on Broadway and garnered Tony awards and other critical nominations and awards, but never rose to the status of major production even though the book and movie saw more success. The love story evolves between a traveling National Geographic photographer (Robert) and an unfulfilled housewife (Francesca) who finds her unrealized dreams awakened when the photographer knocks on her door to ask direction to one of the Iowa bridges he came to shoot for the magazine.

Ever heard a story about the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter? Well, in this case, the farmer and his family are away at the state fair to show a (hopefully) prize-winning steer. “The Bridges of Madison County” provides a new take on that joke line by changing from a joke introduction to a serious love story of love and lust.

Being alone on the farm, Francesca discovers hidden desires, sexual passion, and emotional fulfillment in an extended, impromptu, illicit extra-marital affair. The love story gets intense as Francesca’s emotional and sexual cravings mirror the emptiness and pain of Robert’s past. Their needs fuel the flames while the state fair provides a perfect cover and time-line for Francesca’s family to be away.

As Robert, Jacob Elliott makes his Barn Players debut. He beings a new face and voice to KC audiences and possesses a strong singing voice that matches well with Weber’s clear soprano. Young and fresh to the KC Metro, Elliott will continue to build his local resume. While Elliott portrays the love interest in “The Bridges of Madison County,” John Rizzo plays Bud, the loving husband who fails to realize Francesca’s needs. Rizzo’s face shows his emotions as he tries to cater to both his wife and his children as they all seem to be out of his grasp. Rizzo makes his second appearance at The Barn and most widely seen at Theatre in the Park recently as Lt. Joseph Cable in “South Pacific.”

Opening night came with a few technical issues that were resolved by intermission, and other than that, the show was beautifully acted, directed, staged, and lit. The costumes seem very appropriate for the mid-1960s. The props and stage added a nice touch and the lighting helps the audience differentiate different locations and times of day. Overall, the production is just one more feather in The Barn’s hat.

Leading roles are taken by Cori Ann Weber as Francesca and Jacob Elliott as Robert Kincaid. The supporting cast includes: Larissa Briley, Christoph Cording, Brad Dowdy, Miles Fritz, Sarah Jeter, Barbara Jurgensmeier, Nathan Le, Brenna McConaughey, Jon Rizzo, and Kora Wiedmaier. The ensemble includes: Shelby Bessette, Meaghan Coble, Sharon Johnson, Nancy Seeman, Daniel Vazquez, and Miles Wirth.

“The Bridges of Madison County” production is being helmed by Barn Players Artistic Director Eric Magnus, with musical direction by Michelle McIntire, and assistant direction and choreography provided by Valerie Martin. Others who made the production a success include: Derrick Freeman, stage manager; Doug Schroeder, set design/construction; Hannah Parker, properties; Kimberly Thompson, costume designer; Chuck Cline, lighting design; Joshua Finch, sound design; RuthAnn Miller Wagoner, rehearsal accompanist; Alex Morales, graphic designer.

The score was played by Michelle Allen McIntire, conductor; Jason Rideout, violin; Karly Johnson, violin; RuthAnn Miller Wagoner, piano; Jay Kennel, acoustic/electric guitar and mandolin; Bill Wood, guitar; Frank Annecchini, bass; Tarquin Kellog, percussion.

“The Bridges of Madison County” (based on a novel by Robert James Waller), has music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (“Parade” and “Honeymoon In Vegas”) and a libretto by Marsha Norman (“The Secret Garden” and “The Color Purple”).

“The Bridges of Madison County” plays, Aug. 23-Sept. 2, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at The Arts Asylum, 1000 East 9th Street, (off Harrison Street), Kansas City, MO 6410, and is produced by The Barn Players. Tickets: Adult tickets, $20; Senior (Age 65+) $18; Group tickets of 10+, $15 each; Students (with ID) $15. Tickets may be purchased online at The Barn Players website or via phone 913.432.9100, or at the Barn’s box office. Cash and credit cards are accepted.

Tags: “The Bridges of Madison County”, the Barn Players, The Arts Asylum, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of The Barn Players, Vida Bikales/The Barn Players and Bob Evans

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