Who has the time and money to see every show that comes breezing through Broadway? Not us. Here are the shows we’re sad to have missed. There’s always revivals.
Brittany: ‘Bridges of Madison County’
Pinned to my desk is a window card. Stored on my bookshelf is a printed copy of the script. Sitting at the top of my Top 25 Most Played Songs is a collection of showstoppers. What do all of these things have in common? They all hail from the best Broadway show I can think of — The Bridges of Madison County, a show I have never seen.
Long story short a mysterious man, Robert, visits a small country town to take pictures of their bridges for National Geographic and has a four-day emotional affair with a housewife. Francesca immigrated from Italy after she married a soldier and left for a great adventure in the United States. Iowa was not what she had in mind, but 18 years, two kids, and cattle competitions later, there she sits in hospitable captivity. Bridges is a romance, one based on a book by Robert James Waller, that toes the line of fluff fiction, but is grounded in this adaptation as more of a contemplative piece on what happiness and love does to people who experience it for the first time at an inconvenient time.
I cannot help but feel a some form of kinship to Francesca and not just because if Steven Pasquale came up to me and asked me to run away with him it would take very little convincing to get me out the door. What more is there to the world that I am too complacent to discover? Could I ever just pack up and go away for good?
One listen to the soundtrack and it is no secret why Jason Robert Brown’s score and orchestration both won the Tony in 2014. When O’Hara and Pasquale’s voices join together, especially in “One Second and a Million Miles,” it is something otherworldly. Jason Robert Brown catered this soundtrack to the voices delivering the words on stage every night. From “To Build a Home” straight through “Always Better,” The Bridges of Madison County is a roller coaster of emotions. Even without the visual imagery to compliment my listening experience, a listener is not robbed of the depth in each the scene. It’s all there, buried in the lyrics and notes. It’s no wonder that “The Last Five Years” and “Parade” frequently appear in my musical rotation.
There was a brief window of time, from February 2014 until May 2014 to be exact, where the stage musical, starring two of the biggest powerhouse singers on Broadway, Steven Pasquale and Kelli O’Hara, came to life eight times a week. How those two voices did not bring the theater to the ground is something that will always keep me in wonder. On more than one occasion my car speakers have almost given out to the soundtrack. This is not a musical that has been off Broadway for years like Company that allows me to say, “Oh, it just hasn’t been around when I have the free will and means to see it.” This is a show that was easily accessible. I’ll probably never watch the movie starring Meryl Streep or pick up Weller’s novel. Instead, I’ll enjoy my script, soundtrack, and keep my exposure to the show in the form I discovered it.
Luckily, I will not find myself wandering to an empty Broadway stage many years from now with a bottle of brandy and a letter informing me that all of my chances to see a staged production of the show have faded away. In a few months time the Bridges tour will bring Francesca and Robert’s story to life. I will, however, always find it hard to get over the fact that mere blocks away I let the original production of The Bridges of Madison County play on without me.
Musical theater has got to be the only art form in the world where you can call yourself a fan of a piece of media without ever having actually seen it. Part of the peril of being a Broadway fan from afar — an issue I’ll talk about combating later in the week — is that the run of a show can be fleeting. Some reach levels of success that ensure you will be able to see them, somewhere, one day, because they’ll never close, or they’ll go on tour, or they’ll be licensed to schools and communities and become part of the permanent cultural zeitgeist. But many productions come and go before a lot of potential devotees ever get the chance to see them, whether it’s down to a planned limited run, a celebrity cast, or a production that just doesn’t hit the mark and doesn’t survive. In these cases, all you can do is cry over the album, attempt to get your hands on the script, and do everything you can to build a vision of the lost show in your head. My Great White Way great white whale is Newsies, and specifically, the Newsies original cast that brought the show to Broadway in 2012.
Newsies had a somewhat odd conception — it feels like it should have always been a Broadway show first and foremost, but it was actually a live action Disney movie-musical starring Christan Bale with music by Alan Menken, which developed a cult following and became an actual stage musical 20 years later. The subject matter is just my cup of tea — as a longstanding Les Mis fan, I’m a sucker for a group of plucky boys in period costumes standing up for their rights. Newsies is based on the real life Newsboys’ strike of 1899, which led to a change in child labor compensation from publishing bigwigs like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, who’s actually a character in the show.
But the heart of the show is the enigmatic young strike leader Jack Kelly, a role originated by my favorite voice on Broadway, Jeremy Jordan. He held the role for the first six months of the show, which earned him a Leading Actor Tony nod, one of eight nominations received by the show. Newsies went on to run for two years, and I think it will have good shelf life. It’s currently touring and I will probably get the chance to see it at some point, and I will enjoy it. I love the music and the plot and I know the choreography to be legendary. However, for me, this precise pain stems from never getting to watch Jeremy Jordan bring Jack Kelly to life, which also creates a guilt spiral, because unlike film or TV, theater characters are bigger than the actors that play them. Shows are constantly recast and part of the beauty of the medium is the prospect of seeing many interpretations of the same roles, so it’s kind of sacrilegious to pine over missing a certain actor do his turn when it’s the show itself that should matter. But still.
Kristina: ‘American Idiot’
I know it’s a rock album and I know there’s not much “story” to the show, but man do I wish I could have see this show when it was on Broadway from 2010 to mid-2011. The Green Day album was completely transformed from all out punk rock music to a harmonious soundtrack of stories of a post-9/11 generation. We’re all trying to figure it out: Where do we stand in this country? Where do we stand with our friends, our loved ones? What will make us stronger, and what will beat us down? American Idiot tackles all these issues with a verve that’s meant for a much bigger show, but handles it spectacularly.
It’s always the one show I always return to, wish I’ve seen. There are a lot of fantastic, amazing musicals on Broadway, and I feel extremely lucky to have seen Wicked and Hamilton, and I know The Lion King will always be there should I ever want to see it and it will outlive us all, but American Idiot feels like a very flash-in-the-pan, once-in-a-Broadway-generation kind of experience. The idea of adapting pop music isn’t novel — just look to Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys or Beautiful, but the emotions that John Gallagher Jr., Stark Sands, Michael Esper, Tony Vincent (and, for a brief time, Billie Joe Armstrong), and Rebecca Naomi Jones are able to conjure as Johnny, Tunny, Will, St. Jimmy, and Whatshername, are raw, and powerful.
There is no doubt that the short, 90-minute, intermission-free, blood-pumping evening is memorable to those that saw it, and for those that haven’t, there is the phenomenal soundtrack available to us. You haven’t lived until you cried hearing the cast sing “Last Night on Earth,” or during John Gallagher Jr.’s delicate strumming during his solo, “When It’s Time.”
If you want a small, but thorough taste of what this show is about, I highly recommend you check out Broadway Idiot, the documentary that followed the show’s director, Green Day, and the cast as they go from workshops, to rehearsals, to previews to Broadway and even to the Grammys.
Not many people in America know that the two guys from ABBA once wrote a musical with Tim Rice (lyricist for many Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and the better half of the Disney Renaissance). Well, they did — Chess, a musical about the Cold War told through the lens of a chess tournament between an American and a Russian, and their fight over a woman. The show premiered on the West End in 1986, where it played for three years and won over the hearts of Brits. Two years later, it opened on Broadway… and promptly closed two months later, barely even a blip on the Broadway landscape. In fairness, according to a friend who saw the short-lived Broadway production, the book of Chess was never its strong point. Perhaps that is why the show has remained a favorite for concert productions, featuring a who’s who of Broadway talent over the years, but has not yet seen a proper revival on either side of the Atlantic.
I discovered it through my long-lived ABBA obsession, by following a YouTube rabbit hole and finding Elaine Paige singing “Nobody’s Side,” which remains my favorite song from the show. I got the full two-disc recording from a friend, and listened to it ad nauseum. All of the songs are spectacular, with such talents behind them, but the standouts are definitely “Nobody’s Side” and “Anthem.” I came close to realizing my dream of seeing the show during the thirtieth anniversary concert at 54 Below last year. In addition to the music, I thought the story sounded really cool. Now I await the day producers come to their senses and bring back this glorious musical, which (as evidenced by the concert I attended) has developed quite a cult following over the years.
What Broadway show do you wish you had to opportunity to see?
This article is a part of Hypable’s inaugural Broadway Week in celebration of the 2016 Tony nominations. For more theater features, click here!