HART's latest, "The Bridges of Madison County" musical, delivers.

A brilliant score, written and orchestrated by Jason Robert Brown, soars to operatic heights. Brown is often compared to Stephen Sondheim. HART's music director and pianist for this production is Sarah Fowler of Asheville who wows as a keyboard wizard. Cellist Franklin Keel's smooth-as-velvet solo introduction is breathtaking and he is soon joined by flute player Misty Theisen who doubles on synthesizer. Percussionist Matthew Richmond completes the pit orchestra, which is worth the price of the ticket.

Unless one was under a rock in 1992 when Robert James Waller's slender, tender sob story hit bookstores, you know the tale about "...trains they missed"--the nice Italian-American Iowa farm wife whose life is turned inside-out by a brief visit from a National Geographic photographer who breezes into town to take pictures of the county's covered bridges.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marsha Norman, who earlier penned the riveting Cathy Bates drama, "'night, Mother," took on the formidable task of turning Waller's three-hanky tale into a play. The jury is still out as to whether Waller's slim volume was a viable vehicle for the stage. Brown's music and lyrics won a Tony, but "Bridges" closed a few weeks after opening on Broadway.

HART pulled out all the stops with its production of "Bridges." Handsome Dominic Michael Aquilino, classically trained at the Manhattan School of Music, mesmerizes in everything he does, from "Ring of Fire" to "La Boheme." His range goes from here to yonder, and his vocal control is something to be studied. He shines as Robert Kincaid, the visiting photographer.

Kristen Hedberg plays with exuberance and passion the former WWII bride, Francesco. A favorite of HART season-ticket holders, Kristen sings from the heart. Nit-picking: Francesco might flatten the Italian accent a bit. Older ears had difficulty understanding the heavy Italian accent — a comment heard several times as patrons exited.

Waller's novella had little comic relief. Marsha Norman's play brings us the delightful comedic role of Marge, the nosy neighbor, played to perfection by Emily W. McCurry. HART veteran Strother Stingley always pleases, as do all the actors in the large cast directed by Dwight Chiles who also designed the set. There isn't a weak performance in the production. Newcomer Lief Broderson, playing Francesca's blustering husband Richard "Bud" Johnson, had fun with his role and brought the audience some lovely songs.

HART's energetic production of this interesting musical adaptation may very well be your cup of tea. Give it a try. There's a lot of talent on that stage.

Mary Ann Enloe is a life-long Hazelwood resident who has been active in local government and the arts. She has served as mayor of Hazelwood, a Haywood County Commissioner, was a founding member of the Haywood County Arts Council and has been active in numerous other activities and organizations through the years. She covers arts and entertainment issues in Haywood County, especially bluegrass, and is a writer for The Biltmore Beacon.

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