First there was the book, and then there was the movie and now, 22 years after the story first made waves, The Bridges of Madison County has been given another life, this time as a Broadway musical.
The story’s got all the trappings of a great on-stage love story: A dashing National Geographic photographer with a checkered past; a lonely, married woman; a scenic Iowa town. The ballads practically write themselves. But there are more than just sappy love songs to the story. DuJour caught up with Steven Pasquale, the Rescue Me and White Collar veteran who plays Robert Kincaid, to talk about the story’s legacy, its latest incarnation and just how much romance can really blossom over four days.
Bridges is a story that everyone knows, but the idea of it as a Broadway show was initially a bit surprising.
It’s an extraordinarily popular film and an even more popular book, so there’s a lot of name recognition already. What Jason [Robert Brown] and Marsha [Norman] have done with the play is incredible beautiful; they’ve written a sophisticated, smart and moving show. Really, the source material might be best explored in a musical form.
I’d done one of the workshops and when they were getting ready to do the show on Broadway, I was just coming off a really bad television show that thankfully was cancelled and I was just in time to say I’m around for Madison County. Two days later we made it happen.
Were you a fan of the story before you signed on?
I’d seen the film many years ago but I’d never read the book. I was half-familiar. I stayed completely away from it when I got the role; I wanted it to be our world that we created.
You did the show at the Williamstown Theater Festival over the summer. What was it like to play out of town before coming to Broadway?
It was essential! In this environment, opening a show cold without an out-of-town opportunity where you’re safe to see what the show looks like and make it better would be crazy. We had an incredibly valuable month and a half in Williamstown, working on the material. Without the out-of-town portion, if we’d opened straight to Broadway, we might not have had time to make the show as beautiful as it could be.
Is there added pressure turning a beloved book and film into not just a play but a musical?
For a new musical, the music is everything. That’s why people go. You can have the best idea and an incredible book and a smart director, but if you don’t have a suitable composer—and what we have in Jason Robert Brown is one of the greatest musical theater writers who has ever done this—it won’t work.
This is a 1960s love story. How do you think it holds up today?
You’re talking about a generation that experienced the trauma of World War Two and the Korean War but didn’t know what PTSD was and weren’t able to articulate what trauma is. Those people who ended up having a solitary life, that was their way of coping with the world. And the way I approach Robert is that maybe he’s been through some traumatizing things and doesn’t feel that comfortable around other people. He’s himself wandering the Earth, just taking pictures. Then Francesca pulls out of him his first really soulful, truthful connection.
And their whole relationship takes place over four days! Have you ever had that kind of whirlwind romance?
Not necessarily in four days, but I know the feeling of being overwhelmed by a new person.
You and Kelli O’Hara, who plays Francesca, have worked together a number of times. How does that play into creating these characters?
Well, she’s one of my oldest friends and when I met her, I thought she was one of the most gifted people around. It was no surprise to see her star rise. When we work together, I’m constantly amazing at what a world-class actor she is in addition to being an incredible singer. Chemistry comes easy when you’re working with an unbelievably skilled actor.
The Bridges of Madison County opens February 20 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Click here for more info.