REVIEW: Avon Players’ ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ Transcends a Typical Love Story

From real-life tragedy to comedy and even murder, Avon Players has taken audiences on an exciting journey during its 2017-2018 season. Now, for their curtain call it’s time for one final road trip that leads to The Bridges of Madison County.

Left to right: Tracy Murray as “Francesca” and Dan Romzek as “Robert.”
Photo Credit: Avon Players Theatre Facebook page

Over 25 years ago, readers fell in love with the book and soon after came the movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. While both these versions were wildly popular when they were released, I confess I never read the book or saw the movie. In that sense I was able to head into this performance with fresh eyes. If you are a fan of the story, just know this production is a musical and hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised (as I was) at how the songs creates such a strong narrative. Right from the beginning the packed house was treated to the vocals of Tracy L. Murray, who plays the female lead Francesca Johnson with such passion and raw emotion.

The setting is 1965 Winterset, Iowa, which is located about 30 miles southwest of the state capital Des Moines. In the first song “To Build a Home,” Francesca recounts her journey from being an Italian war bride brought to the United States by her American soldier husband, Richard “Bud” Johnson (Matthew Cason) and what she’s learned over the last 18 years living on a farm and raising a family:

I learn to speak, I learn to sew, I learn to let the longing go…

Front to Back: Matthew Cason (Richard “Bud” Johnson, Max Schein (Michael), Taylor Belyea (Carolyn), Jennifer Combs (Marge), Mark Misch (Charlie), Kirsten Renas (Ensemble/Ginny), Julia Timko (Ensemble), Brandon Morrow (Ensemble), Patrick Daniels (Ensemble) and Ryan Donnellon (Ensemble) – Photo courtesy of Avon Players Facebook page

Bud is a stoic and stubborn man. To him, life is just what it is, and you deal with each day as it comes. Together with Francesca they have two children Michael (Max Schein) and Carolyn (played by talented newcomer Taylor Belyea) who are typical teenagers – rebellious and naïve. As the play begins Bud, Michael, and Carolyn are preparing to head to Indianapolis for three days to show Carolyn’s prize steer in the national 4-H show. Francesca is staying behind and looking forward to not having to cook or clean. However, her serenity is short lived when National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid (Dan Romzek) arrives on her front porch looking for directions to the Roseman Bridge.

From the moment they meet, something starts stirring inside Francesca. Murray does an excellent job of conveying Francesca’s confusion at what she’s feeling. As for Kincaid, it’s easy to tell he’s searching for more than just a bridge (“Temporarily Lost”). The progression of the relationship is believable thanks to extraordinary performances by Murray and Romzek. The last time these two shared the stage was six years ago and they seem to have picked up right where they left off because the chemistry between them in undeniable and it sizzles. The song “Wondering” signifies a shift regarding the feelings of the main characters. There is a reawakening happening for both of them and it’s not long before they let their guards down to explore the growing attraction between. In the midst of all this seriousness, composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown was smart to inject tasteful comedic elements such as when good-natured busybody Marge (played by the always delightful Jennifer Combs) sings “Get Closer” while wearing a housecoat and head full of curlers. While the story obviously centers on the unexpected romance between Francesca and Kincaid, if you pay close attention you’ll notice all the main characters experience many levels of self-discovery throughout the performance. It’s what they choose to do with what they learn that will determine their future. Can Francesca and Kincaid’s relationship survive outside the vacuum in which it started? Do we chase our dreams or stay steadfast in our commitments? You’ll have to wait until the very end when Francesca so poignantly reveals the answer in “Always Better.”

Two actors embrace for a sceen on stage

Left to right: Tracy Murray as “Francesca” and Dan Romzek as “Robert.” – Photo courtesy of Avon Players Facebook page

As we’ve come to expect with the quality of Avon Players’ productions, all of the actors display strong vocals, but it is Murray with her soaring soprano and Romzek with his stirring tenor that will leave you with chills. Seriously. Just the chance to hear these two sing is reason enough to see this show. Make no mistake. This is a story you will find yourself fully invested in. And as far as romances go, it is one of the best I’ve come across in recent years. Definitely better than any story you’ll find at the movies.

The performance runs approximately two hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Tickets for all shows are $22 ($20 on Sundays for students and seniors). Call 248.608.9077 for tickets or order online at Group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. All seats are reserved. Check out one of these remaining performances:

  • Sunday, May 20           2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, May 25              8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 26         8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 27           2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, June 1               8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 2          8:00 p.m.

Love local theatre? Get your tickets now for the upcoming 2018-2019 Avon Players season which includes Steel Magnolias and Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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