Dale Rapley will play Bud in the upcoming production of the UK première of the musical of Robert James Waller’s bestselling novel The Bridges of Madison County in a new staging by Trevor Nunn, which is at Menier Chocolate Factory 13th July to 14th September 2019.

The production sees Trevor Nunn renew his collaboration with the Menier – he previously directed Fiddler on the Roof (currently running at the Playhouse Theatre), Lettice and Lovage, Love in Idleness (also West End), A Little Night Music (also West End and Broadway) and Aspects of Love for the company.

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You’re appearing in The Bridges of Madison County, what can you tell us about it?

I play Bud in The Bridges of Madison County. He was an American soldier, part of the liberating force at the end of the second world war in Naples, Italy, where he met Francesca. Having fallen in love with her, he offered to marry her and bring her back home to the US, where they embarked on a new life together on his family farm near Winterset, Iowa, in the heart of the American Mid West.

The show begins 20 years later in 1965, by which time he and Francesca have had two children, Michael, aged 16 and Carolyn, 14. He is a traditional, conservative father, who expects his son to one day take over the running of the farm. The ensuing conflict between him and his son forms part of the central narrative of his story.

Most people will be familiar with the film version, how does the musical differ?

The show is very different from the film, which focussed almost entirely on the relationship between Francesca and Robert, as played by Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, framed by the discovery of their relationship by the grown up children after their mother’s death. In the musical, this framing device is jettisoned and the family itself features much more, as we see them at the Illinois State Fair before the judging of Carolyn’s prize steer and also witness Bud’s phone calls home over the course of the few days they are away.

What do you like most about your character?

Bud is a good man, but, like many men at that time (if not indeed since!), has very fixed and traditional ideas about how life should be and everyone’s role within it. He loves Francesca, but as he sings in the song ‘Something From A Dream’, “she might feel embarrassed, taking time to tell me what she feels”. Feelings are not something he is comfortable with. As long as he continues to provide for the family, he expects them to be grateful and not complain. He has grown up in a community that looks out for one another, and would never hesitate to help anyone in need. He has the American Protestant work ethic in spades, but this approach to life only goads his son, a teenager of the 1960s looking to expand his horizons and break away from the stifling straitjacket of life on the farm, all the more.

I’m really enjoying playing someone who is fundamentally decent and kind, but struggling to hang on to his authority, increasingly out of his depth, and unaware, not only of the pace of change around him, but also, of course, of what is really going on with his wife.

How would you describe Jason Robert Brown’s score?

The music in the show is pretty eclectic, but has a lot of influences from late sixties/early seventies Americana – country, folk, blues and gospel. One song will remind you of a very early Elton john, the next of something by Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan and The Band. But then there also these big, beautiful sweeping ballads of intense love and yearning. It’s all really wonderful stuff.

What are you enjoying most about working with Trevor Nunn?

I’m loving working with Trevor again. We did a production of Shakespeare’s King John three years ago at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, which was a terrific experience. His knowledge and insight always makes you feel in exceptionally good hands. But it’s particularly good to be working on the British premiere of a new musical with him. My career has always straddled classical theatre and musicals and it’s wonderful to work with a director who has had such extraordinary success in both genres. You can’t help but trust him implicitly.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see The Bridges of Madison County?

This version of The Bridges of Madison County is a musical, but has the feeling of a domestic drama about it, of a play with songs, and great songs at that. It’s an intimate show and deeply affecting. I defy anyone not to be moved by this very human story.

The Bridges of Madison County featuring Dale Rapley is at Menier Chocolate Factory 13th July to 14th September 2019. Main Image credit Johan Persson.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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