Inman and company send Bridges soaring (The Dio – Review)

About two years ago, I spent an elated evening on Broadway watching and listening to Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale sing Jason Robert Brown’s masterwork score in the musical The Bridges of Madison County. There’s similar musical magic on display at the Dio. Bridges is a production that can clearly be considered The Dio’s best yet in what is quickly becoming a string of excellent productions at the venue in Pinckney. From the show’s excellent leads to ensemble and Matthew Tomich’s gorgeous puzzle-like set and lighting design, the evening flows seemlessly from scene to scene under Steve DeBruyne’s fast-paced direction.
You probably know the story – married Italian housewife Francesca meets Robert, a handsome and exciting photographer on assignment taking shots of local covered bridges. While her husband and kids are away at the state fair for a few days, she has a surprising fling that results in an unexpected proposition and a decision she must make. That’s all I’m saying about it. You either buy in or you don’t (and that was the dilemma on Broadway – the show’s target market is probably exactly the age of people struggling with their own domestic dramas at home and it is pretty hard to sell a show about adultery, no matter how well received). The show itself is also a bit unbalanced, with a too-long first act and a power-ballad filled second act. 
But there is no denying the exceptional Tony-winning Jason Robert Brown score — it is one of the finest musical theater scores in the past decade, and here it is handled expertly under the very talented vocal skills of Marlene Inman as Francesca and the solid Jon McHatton as Robert. On the few occasions that the outstanding ensemble joins in, the score simply soars into the stratosphere and resonates somewhere over Iowa itself. Brian Buckner’s musical direction is top-notch, though the balance is sometimes off between orchestra and singers. In one sequence (“Home Before You Know it”) women’s vocals overpowered men’s vocals and dialogue got muddied and lost, although things got significantly better afterwards. 
Madison Merlanti sings a lovely “Another Life” (the show’s standout signature tune), and strong performances are also turned in by Julianne Roberts as daughter Carolyn, James Fischer as son Michael, and Andrew Gorney as husband Bud. Carrie Jay Sayer is terrific as nosy neighbor Marge, and the entire ensemble is excellent.
The standout, however, is the remarkable Marlene Inman in a performance you should not miss. Jon McHatton seems a bit too young for Robert but is handsome and sings beautifully. As expected “Before and After You/ One Second and a Million Miles” is the musical apex of the evening and it does not disappoint. 
Whether you like the storyline itself or not, this is a musical not to be missed and a vocal score to be cherished. Congratulations to the Dio for bringing this challenging and rewarding piece to local audiences. 
Highest Recommendation. 
The Bridges of Madison County continues at the Dio, 177 E Main St, Pinckney Mi through May 21st. Tickets at or (517) 672-6009

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