Hackmatack Playhouse is continuing its eclectic 2018 season with the Tony Award-winning musical “The Bridges of Madison County.” Although set in Iowa, over 1,400 miles away, the musical is the perfect fit for Hackmatack’s barn playhouse and the picturesque town of Berwick.

Based on the 1992 romantic novel by Robert James Waller, the musical draws the audience into the heart-wrenching love affair between a farmer’s wife, Francesca Johnson (Katherine Fuller), and her star-crossed lover, photographer Robert Kincaid (Brian Edward Levario). When Francesca’s husband, Bud (Jacob J. Zentis), and their two children, Carolyn (Janais Axelrod) and Michael (Jacob Less), go away to the 1965 State Fair for four days, she stays behind for a little piece and quiet. But sparks fly when a National Geographic photographer knocks on her door looking for directions to a local covered bridge.

Francesca is more than simply an underappreciated housewife. Many years before, she escaped her war-torn hometown of Naples, Italy, with Bud and now longs for the country she left behind. Robert recently returned from a photo shoot in Naples, offering her a chance to see it once again through his eyes.

Much of their moving story is told through song, accompanied beautifully by a seven-piece orchestra under the direction of Suzanne Jalbert Jones. The poignant score stirs emotion, connecting the audience to the characters.

Love and yearning plucks at the heartstrings in Robert and Francesca’s gorgeous duet “Falling Into You,” and the audience can feel Robert’s heart breaking on “It Fades Away.”

Fuller and Levario are superbly cast as Francesca and Robert, delivering heartfelt emotion that is nicely augmented by her operatic vibrato and his melodic tenor. Zentis also delivers a strong performance as Bud on such songs as “Something From a Dream,” and Axelrod and Less standout as Carolyn and Michael on the duet “Real World.”

Although secondary characters, Lindsay Andrews is memorable as Robert’s ex-wife, Marian, and Evelyn Mahon and Paul Strand are a delight as Francesca’s busybody neighbor, Marge, and her husband, Charlie. Andrews delivers a touching rendition of “Another Life,” and Mahon belting out “Get Closer” into a telephone handset, dressed in a bathrobe, is pure fun.

Hackmatack compliments the stirring score with a clever set by Dane Leeman that’s backlit by a visually captivating backdrop. Scenery projected on a screen gives the illusion that the audience is looking out onto the farm and surrounding countryside. Photos taken of the actors at Hackmatack and around Berwick are also projected on the screen, recreating Robert’s photographs, and a stunning sketch of the covered bridge occurs “live,” as if Francesca is sketching it as the audience watches.

Hackmatack Playhouse delivers a blue-ribbon rendition of “The Bridges of Madison County” that captures the tragic story of two soulmates, who have regrettably found each other too late in life. Although the story centers on an affair, it isn’t sordid but instead sublimely focusing on the power of love and the sacrifices we sometimes have to make in its name.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ahboyle

filed under: