Based on the 1992 best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County is a musical with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (Parade, Songs for a New World), a book by Marsha Norman (‘night, Mother), and directed by Bartlett Sher. Though the show was a highly anticipated transfer from the Williamstown Theatre Festival where it ran in summer 2013, it will unfortunately close on May 18, 2014 after consistently moderate sales. The musical opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on February 20, 2014 after 37 preview performances, and it will have run 100 regular performances by the time it shutters its doors.
The musical was not helped by its schedule, having opened in the midst of a very cold winter. Furthermore, it received mixed reviews from critics, despite considerable appreciation for the performances of its two stars. Kelli O’Hara, who has received Tony Award nominations for her roles in The Light in the Piazza, The Pajama Game, South Pacific, and Nice Work if You Can Get It, starred alongside Steven Pasquale, who is known for his television roles on Rescue Me and Six Feet Under. The Bridges of Madison County received four Tony Award nominations in 2014, including those for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Kelli O’Hara), Best Original Score (Jason Robert Brown), Best Orchestrations (Jason Robert Brown), and Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Donald Holder). Despite this appreciation from the theatre community, it did not manage to attract enough ticket-buyers to keep it afloat.
Financially, the show’s highest weekly gross was $476,374, but it generally grossed around $350,000 per week. This is hardly enough to sustain a musical, even though its capitalization was a modest $8.5 million. In general, it only amassed enough sales to reach 30 to 40 percent of its gross potential in a given week. Since early March, it has been on a steady decline, and this past week it grossed $64,998 less than the week before.
The novel is one of the bestselling books of the 20th century, having sold 50 million copies worldwide. It is the story of an Italian woman named Francesca who lives in Madison County, Iowa in the 1960s. The story takes off when she starts an affair with a National Geographic photographer focused on covered bridges in the area, and it follows the couple for several years afterward. In addition to this musical adaptation, the novel was made into a film in 1995 directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Eastwood and Meryl Streep.
This is a very competitive season for new musicals. In addition to the four that were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical – A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Aladdin, After Midnight, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical – this season also saw the premiere of Bullets over Broadway, If/Then, and Rocky the Musical, as well as the Broadway premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Violet (though these two shows have had Off-Broadway runs in the past). In addition to the slew of musical revivals and plays both new and revived, it was particularly difficult for a new musical to find its audience, even one with such name recognition as The Bridges of Madison County.