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'The Bridges of Madison County' opens on Broadway

Steven Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara star in this

Steven Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara star in this new musical based on Robert James Waller's best-selling romance (and Clint Eastwood's film) about an Iowa farm wife and a traveling photographer in "The Bridges of Madison County" directed by Bartlett Sher, at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Credit: Joan Marcus

It's the book you loved -- or loved to hate. When "The Bridges of Madison County" by debut novelist Robert James Waller shot up the bestseller lists in 1992, it got people talking -- with maybe half those who'd read it (Oprah Winfrey, for one) saying how moved they were by the simple tale of romance between an Iowa farm wife and a just-passing-through National Geographic photographer. The other half were less generous (an "insipid . . . third-rate soap opera," said one critic).

A 1995 film version, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Eastwood and Meryl Streep, received favorable reviews, and earned Streep an Academy Award nomination.

Now, it's Broadway's turn.

The musical version of "Bridges," starring Kelli O'Hara and "Rescue Me's" Steven Pasquale, opens Thursday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

"I think they [audiences] are actually looking forward to experiencing it in a new form," says director Bartlett Sher.

The music -- ranging from haunting classical cello to twangy guitars -- comes from composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown ("Parade"); the book by Marsha Norman ("The Secret Garden," "The Color Purple") -- both of them Tony Award winners.

The set, with its grand sweep of Iowa cornfields and massive blue sky, evokes the vastness of the Iowa landscape -- a view familiar to O'Hara, who grew up on a farm in Oklahoma, and who based her role in part on her maternal grandmother, a longtime farm woman.

"I think about what she's been through, what she gave up, and what makes her proud," says O'Hara. "Her family made her very proud. And things she made with her hands."

For Pasquale and O'Hara, this moment has been a long time coming.

"She's the best -- she's one of my oldest friends in New York," says Pasquale.

The two met when they first moved to the city some 15 years ago. They've acted together, but "we've never had the chance to be in love, and have chemistry," says O'Hara.

They almost sealed the deal in "The Light in the Piazza," both appearing in a Seattle production, with Pasquale as the romantic Fabrizio, O'Hara as a secondary character. When the show moved to Broadway in 2005, O'Hara was now playing the romantic lead, Clara -- but Pasquale had left to play firefighter Sean Garrity on FX's "Rescue Me."

Last summer, they starred Off-Broadway as a married couple in "Far From Heaven," but that marriage was on the rocks.

Finally, with "Bridges," they've got a shot at a real love story.

"This music is just so fulfilling, and our relationship, our comfort with each other, is so easy," says O'Hara. "We've been given a chance to be our best selves with each other in this. We're so excited. I feel like once we get onstage, we're going to explode."


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