Arts & Culture

‘Madison County’ story makes the trip from novel to musical

Elizabeth Stanley is Francesca and Andrew Samonsky is Robert in the musical adaptation of “The Bridges of Madison County,” onstage at June 14-19 at Starlight Theatre.
Elizabeth Stanley is Francesca and Andrew Samonsky is Robert in the musical adaptation of “The Bridges of Madison County,” onstage at June 14-19 at Starlight Theatre.

Francesca is a lonely Italian woman living in small-town Iowa when photographer Robert Kincaid appears. The two meet and have a whirlwind four-day affair.

For Elizabeth Stanley, who plays Francesca in the musical “The Bridges of Madison County” coming to Starlight Theatre, it’s not hard to relate to the character.

“I think we’re both very loyal people, we both have big hearts, we’re both quite motherly, and I think we both feel very deeply,” said Stanley, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“I love that playing Francesca is a great challenge as an actor because it’s such a big role. But it’s really about an adult woman who’s falling in love and dealing with the consequences of that and her rather complicated life.”

She said she was drawn to the score written by Jason Robert Brown.

“There aren’t as many contemporary soprano roles that get to sing as much as this role does,” Stanley said. “It was really fun to work with the music.”

Brown said it made sense to write Francesca as a soprano because of the music she sings during the show.

“The score was always built for a soprano,” Brown said. “It was always built for somebody who would encompass a very legitimate vocal style. I needed Francesca to sound different.”

“The Bridges of Madison County” is a 1992 novel by Robert James Waller. The book became a New York Times best-seller and was adapted into a 1995 film starring Meryl Streep as Francesca and Clint Eastwood as Kincaid. The musical will be performed at Starlight June 14-19.

The original Broadway production won several awards, including Tonys for best original score and best orchestrations, both to Brown. Although the story is not originally made for a musical, director Bartlett Sher thinks the story is best performed as a musical, according to Brown.

“The things these people are dealing with are so elemental and so powerful that you can’t really just speak them,” Brown said. “You have to elevate them into something grander than speech.”

But he said there are still difficulties transforming a movie into a musical. “You have to find a way to make it a good musical as opposed to a movie with songs thrown into it.”

Stanley agrees that “Bridges ” is most natural as a musical.

“The musical is very contemporary. It feels very cinematic in the storytelling,” Stanley said. “And it’s almost organic. It almost makes sense that the characters would sing.”

“The Bridges of Madison County” is touring the country, but Starlight is going to be unusual.

“Kansas City is the only place where we get to do this show outside, which I think is really special because there’s quite a bit of action that takes place outside. So I think that will be really cool,” Stanley said.

“And I’m excited by what the audience will bring to it on a hot summer night in Missouri to watch these people grappling with these intense, beautiful emotions.”

Onstage

“The Bridges of Madison County” runs June 14-19 at Starlight Theatre. $14-$142. KCStarlight.com

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