The musical, which is based on a 1992 book by Robert James Waller (and the subsequent movie version), tells the story of Francesca Johnson (Kelli O'Hara), an Italian war bride who lives in Iowa with her husband, Bud (Hunter Foster), and two kids (Derek Klena and Caitlin Kinnunen). While Francesca's family is away for a few days, Francesca enters into an affair with a traveling photographer, Robert (Steven Pasquale). In their time together, Robert and Francesca quickly fall in love and she is eventually forced to make a choice between her new love and her family.
By far, the best part of this cast album is the performances of the two stars, Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale. On top of having beautiful voices that are perfectly suited to their respective characters, both actors manage to convey all of the heart and emotion of the show just through the songs. O'Hara, in particular, shines as she pulls off a believable Italian accent while pouring more than enough emotion to her character to make you fall in love with Francesca throughout the album. To compliment O'Hara's Francesca, Pasquale's Robert has just enough reserved confidence to make you cheer for the affair at times.
Overall, the stars' vocal performances are wonderful, and they make the CD worth listening to. And, in terms of the album as a whole, you definitely get to hear them sing a lot. 16 of the 19 songs on the cast album can be considered duets between the two main characters or solos for the stars or other actors (rarely with background vocals from the cast). Most of these solos/duets are beautiful, but the relative lack of group and ensemble numbers tends to make the album drag in places.
In addition, several of these solos/duets sound fairly similar. In general, most of them are mellower and softer songs. Of the few songs that are more upbeat, almost all include at least on section that slows down and becomes quiet again. Of course, soft, quiet songs are needed in musicals, but, at times, it felt like the whole show became too soft and quiet.
I am hesitant to use the word "dull", because the majority of the songs are far from the negative connotation that "dull" has, but, at times, the overload of ballads brought this word to mind. In reality, the album was far from boring. In my opinion, the songs "Falling Into You" and "One Second and a Million Miles" (both duets between Francesca and Robert) make the album worth buying by themselves.
Sure, the album might be a bit slow at times, but the beautiful, haunting melodies presented on it make this album worth listening to. It's easy to get swept up in the romance of Jason Robert Brown's songs and he finds a perfect balance of American folk music and his signature Broadway style to make the recording seem fresh, yet classic. The epic romance portrayed in the show shines through the cast album and proves to be everlastingly beautiful.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The cast recording of The Bridges of Madison County musical was released through the Ghostlight label. It is available for digital download on iTunes ($11.99) and on CD through Amazon.com ($16.99)