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A musical for the incurable romantic

MiG Ayesa and Joanna Ampil as National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid and Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson, respectively, in a scene from The Bridges of Madison County

MANILA, Philippines - From a best-selling book to a big screen romantic thriller that became a box-office hit, The Bridges of Madison County became an award-winning theatrical opus that is now playing to local audiences at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at RCBC Plaza.

Stepping into the shoes of Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood is truly formidable. But that was what Joanna Ampil and MiG Ayesa did when they took on the roles of Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid in the romantic musical based on the best-selling novel of Robert James Waller.

Produced by Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group which also recently mounted Saturday Night Fever (now on an Asian tour), The Bridges of Madison County is the whirlwind (read: four days) romance of a bored Iowa housewife, Francesca and National Geographic photographer Robert.

Everyone who is an incurable romantic knows the unforgettable story of Francesca and Robert. Sure, we loved the book and we all swooned to the romance when we saw the movie. But the music created for The Bridges of Madison County, all the more made it into a three-hankie weepie, “one of the most romantic stories ever written.”

The story of the play is faithful to the book, not really the movie. Joanne somewhat patterned her characterization of Francesca after Meryl’s portrayal. Even Francesca’s intonation as a country housewife was inspired by Meryl’s. It was not a down side, definitely. Meryl gave an Oscar-nominated performance in that film.

In her Facebook account, Joanna posted, “When people used to ask me what my favorite role is, I could never give them an answer. I’ve been blessed with so many roles to play that it makes it impossible to choose. After having gone through and embraced her journey, now I can simply say Francesca is at the top of my list. Thank you, Bobby Garcia for this gift.”

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Bobby, of course, is the director of The Bridges of Madison County, the nth musical presentation to his sterling credit

Francesca and Robert shared the stage in beautiful duets like Falling Into You that ended Act 1 and even One Second and a Million Miles and Always Better both in Act 2. Robert also soared vocally with his powerful solo in It All Fades Away.

The Bridges of Madison County debuted on Broadway in February 2014. It won the Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestration for Jason Robert Brown, who also bagged the Best Music honors for the play at the Drama Desk Awards.

MiG, for his part, welcomed the chance of playing a romantic lead since he’s known as a rock star. He’s obviously proud to show his different side after doing Rock of Ages in Broadway and Manila. After all, he fell in love with the musical score of Jason Robert Brown for The Bridges of Madison County.

Born in the Philippines and raised in Australia, MiG gained fame when he joined Rock Star: Inxs in 2005 and landed as one of the Top 3 finalists. The winner was JD Fortune. In Rock Star, MiG sang the hauntingly sentimental revival of Baby, I Love Your Way, which later bannered his solo CD.

Then there were the equally competent cast members who also portrayed memorable roles. Nino Alejandro as Francesca’s husband Bud shone in his solo of Something From a Dream. Carla Guevarra played dual roles — as Marian, Robert’s ex-wife who gave him the guitar he always brings along wherever he goes and Chiara, Francesca’s sister who lives in Naples. As Marian, Carla had her solo in Another Life.

 Providing comic touches to the musical were Emeline Celis-Guinid and Jamie Wilson as the nosy couple Marge and Charlie, who are close family friends of the Johnsons. Bibo Reyes and Mikkie Bradshaw essayed the roles of the Johnson children, Michael and Carolyn, respectively.

The night we watched, several theater personalities and celebrities were in the audience. Leo Valdez, Nyoy Volante, Franco Laurel and wife Ayen Munji-Laurel, Pinky Amador, even Boy Abunda who himself started in theater.

The Bridges of Madison County is presented by Atlantis Productions with Ten Bridges Media Corporation, a new multi-media company established by television bosses Bobby Barreiro and Tony Tuviera. To date, Ten Bridges has presented Ghost the Musical, Shrek and Saturday Night Fever.

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