Meet Robert Kincaid. Plays guitar. Smokes Camels. Stuffs a knapsack full of equipment in his pick-up truck, and takes off for Iowa to shoot the covered bridges of Madison County for National Geographic. Falls deeply in love with Francesca Johnson, a farmer’s wife. But it’s not happily ever-after—at least not for Kincaid and Johnson. They part. It is happily ever after for Robert James Waller, author of the 171-page novel, The Bridges of Madison County, published in 1992.
Off-the-charts bestseller. Ten million sold in hardcover alone. Oprah! NPR! An entire week of a Doonesbury spoof! New York Times Best Sellers list for three years, despite reviews trashing it as “a hallmark card for unrequited love” and “porn for Yuppie women.”
The CD came next: Ballads of Madison County, songs by Robert James Waller with guitar accompaniment by Robert James Waller. Also: dissertations and academic papers (“Reading the Romance, Building the Best Seller a Q- Methodological Study of Reader Response to Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County,” was one.) Then, in 1995, the Steven Spielberg-Clint Eastwood-Meryl Streep movie.
Now it’s a Broadway musical set to open tonight. Kincaid will be played by actor Steven Pasquale. Kelli O’Hara plays Francesca.
Does art imitate life? Not if you ask our photographers, as we did when the movie came out.
In the book, Kinkaid catches the attention of our editors because of a photograph he took for a calendar. Not likely. A single photograph is never a foot in the door here.
The part about love lost and found? It’s happened. Photographer William Albert Allard met his wife Ani on assignment in Peru. But the more typical reality is that the stretches away from home strain a marriage to the breaking point. On the road again and again. Exciting, yes. Glamorous, no.
But that’s where romance novels, Hollywood, and Broadway come in, though the line between fact and fiction blurred when hundreds of our readers wrote to ask when that story about the Madison County bridges was published. Answer: It wasn’t. (We have done a story on the Brooklyn Bridge, though.)
To prepare for the role, Pasquale, the Broadway Kincaid, worked with a photographer for the Associated Press, who taught him how to hold a camera and gave him pointers on the length of the camera strap.
“The musical is a different take on the story,” Pasquale explained by phone while on dinner break from rehearsals in New York. “We’re doing a younger version. In the show, I’m in early mid-life instead of later mid-life as in the book.”
A singing photographer? (Well, Bill Allard did love to sing as a small boy. And he did cover a story on the Blues.)
“It’s a musical. All the characters sing,” Pasquale says. One of his songs is about capturing the light. “It’s called ‘The World Inside A Frame’, and is about light, the frame, and the freedom in seeing the world,” he says.
Does he read our magazine?
“I was obsessed with it,” he says. “Then the magazines piled up in the corner of my room and I let it lapse. But my only fun memories of being in the doctor’s office was reading National Geographic.”