This is a new Broadway musical, based on the book and the movie. I never read the book, I heard it was nothing but a Harlequin romance printed on higher-quality paper - - but I loved the movie. Clint Eastwood was never more tender, and Meryl Streep, of course, can do no wrong. And all that Johnny Hartman on the soundtrack, I was in heaven.
The musical was written for the great Kelli O’Hara. Richard and I saw her in *South Pacific* a few years ago, she was brilliant. When Mary Martin sang “I’m in love with a wonderful guy” in the original production, she sang it like a great Rodgers and Hammerstein song. When Kelli O’Hara sang it, it was a pivotal moment in the emotional life of her character. She is a deeply honest and moving performer.
Richard and I also saw her in *Far From Heaven* this summer, a musical from the songwriting team of *Grey Gardens* and the playwright of *Take Me Out*, an adaptation of the Todd Haynes movie about a 1950s Connecticut housewife whose husband is gay and she turns to her Black gardener for support. I liked the musical better than anyone else we saw it with. O’Hara was very good in it.
Once again O’Hara was the best thing in an uneven show. Her first song set the tone and gave the point of view of her character, an Italian woman living on an Iowa farm and raising a family and the four-day affair she has with a National Geographic reporter who comes through town. The start of the show couldn’t have been more impressive or more enticing. But the writers had problems with shifts in tone. This is a tricky business in a musical, making the songs grow out of the situation, making the whole thing feel natural and organic. They did a good job with that but did a lousy job when they alternated between drama and comedy. The turning point in the show is when the two characters finally kiss each other. The scene took place in her kitchen. She turned on the radio, and you hear a Patsy Cline type song. It was sung by the nosy Gladys Kravitz-type character next door, with curlers in her hair. So you didn’t know whether to laugh at her or be moved by the leading couple dancing on the other side of the stage. It was a serious misfire.
She’s back with her *Far From Heaven* leading man in *The Bridges of Madison County*, Steven Pasquale. He has charisma, and the two of them have great chemistry, but his singing sometimes rattled my nerves. Too pop-based, too American Idol. A lot of the time he sang in a straightforward way, and he sounded great, but too often he went for a hooty yelpy king of vocal production, with his fangs bared and his jaw jutting out. Not attractive.
The show was too long - - such a slight story shouldn’t take more than two hours to tell. The director should consider staging it so the audience doesn’t applaud after every song, the show would have more momentum. The songs sounded too much the same after a while, like Joni Mitchell lite. I liked the minimal, suggestive set, but Richard thought it looked like a high school musical, especially when the actors moved the set pieces on and offstage. This is how he summed up the show: “It was all just plain cheap. The sets were cheap, and the sentiment was cheap."