Acclaimed playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman ('Night Mother, The Secret Garden, The Color Purple) didn't hesitate when she got a call asking her if she'd be interested in adapting The Bridges of Madison County for the stage. “Of course I would. That book sold 60 million copies,” she says. Turned into a successful movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, “it's the story of love lost and paths not taken, and that seems perfect for Broadway,” explains Norman, who also teaches at Juilliard.
Now the Tony Award®-winning musical is making its Houston premiere courtesy of Theatre Under The Stars.
When she began discussions with her longtime collaborator and three-time music Tony Award®-winning composer Jason Robert Brown for the stage production, Brown said he wanted to do an operatic treatment. “What, like Puccini?” she says she asked with some disbelief. Not exactly. But they did develop a song in the second act that clocks in somewhere in the 12- or 13-minute range, she says. “And it's staggeringly good and exceptionally beautiful. It is exactly what is in the heart of those people in that moment [Robert asks Francesca to leave her home and family and come away with him], and it is operatic in that moment. It is what opera has long been able to do, which is give people a chance to sing their hearts out. ”
“The way that Jason and I work is that we talk all the way through the story. We figure out where the songs belong. I write great long pages about needs to be contained in the song in order to lead back to the book. We have a mutually agreed-on vision for the song. Written for eight people, the show expands greatly upon the novel and the movie. “It can't be two hours on Clint and Meryl,” she says, explaining that they felt they had to build a case for the community that Francesca was close to.
“Her decision is based on her love for her community, her family. So I created a world in which she lived and he entered.” Elizabeth Stanley (On the Town, Million Dollar Quartet) stars as Francesca, and Andrew Samonsky (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, South Pacific) is Robert.
The play appeals to anyone who has ever had a difficult decision to make about their relationships, Norman says. “We've all made these choices,” and continue to wonder about the what-ifs that follow for years after, she adds.
Performances are scheduled for January 19-31 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays (exception: January 19 is at 8 p.m.), 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $37.50-$119.50.