SIU's McLeod Theater transforms into 'The Bridges of Madison County'

A well-known story of passion and love will unfold next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale as the McLeod Summer Playhouse performs "The Bridges of Madison County."

Featuring SIU Carbondale faculty Susan Patrick Steinfeldt and David Dillard in the lead roles as Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid, the musical is based on Robert James Waller's 1992 best-selling novel and award-winning 1995 romantic drama starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. The production will be in SIU's McLeod Theater ­- in the Communications Building - with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, June 22 to 24, and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, June 25.

The performance details the discovery by Johnson's children following her death of an intense four-day, mid-1960s love affair between their mother and Kincaid, a photojournalist for National Geographic who had come to Madison County, Iowa, to photograph historic covered bridges. The affair happened while Johnson's husband and her two then-young children were away at the state fair.

A story about love and loss

Patrick Steinfeldt, an associate professor, voice and speech specialist in the School of Theater and Dance, said the story is about "love choice and loss. Francesca Johnson is so pure of heart and loving and honest. You just automatically adore her. It's her honesty I adore and that she makes every decision in her life based on those she loves.

"I love that the romantic leads are in their second chapters of life and finding great meaning in their lives. The music is exciting to sing."

Dillard, associate professor of voice in the School of Music, sees Robert Kincaid "as a man who has experienced the world but who has difficulty connecting with people. Then he finds Francesca and discovers a new world through her."

The musical has "a beautiful story to tell," and Dillard believes the audience will be swept away by the tale and music.

"This is an amazing cast," he said. "What I most look forward to is watching my colleagues inhabit their characters. They inspire me to go deeper with my character."

Enveloping the audience

Patrick Steinfeldt hopes the performance reminds audiences that "as humans, we all live many lives. We all make the best choices we can in any given circumstances. So judging choices from the past is senseless. Life is sometimes complicated and messy, but choices made from the heart always unfold in remarkable ways."

This year marks the first full McLeod Summer Playhouse season since 2019. The 12-member cast includes two SIU faculty, two local professionals, a professional actor from New York City and SIU students from the schools of music, and theater and dance, in addition to professional musicians. About 25 people are working backstage, building sets, arranging props, sewing costumes and working with lighting, rigging and other behind-the-scenes work.

"The Bridges of Madison County" was selected for its potential to reach adult audiences, said Angela C. Shultz, MSP's artistic director and an assistant professor of practice in the School of Music. Audiences will see the same basic plot from the novel and film but will "come away loving the musical just as much, if not more," she said.

"During our process, it has become one of my favorite scores of the last 20 years. The music allows the voices and strings to soar while buoyed by a piano-driven sound. I'm always drawn to pieces that allow us to see real human experience, even when we're looking at difficult moments in life. I love working with this cast of people from around the U.S., coming together to tell this uniquely Midwestern story. In this last year, I've been fortunate to build relationships with the SIU musical theater students, and it's been particularly exciting to see them grow this summer because of their experience working with seasoned actors."

Tickets are available

For more information about the performances, visit the MSP website. Beer and wine from the university's Fermentation Science Institute will be served at cash only bars in the lobby before performances and during intermissions.

Season and single performance tickets are available for "The Bridges of Madison County" and another MSP production, "Footloose." Single tickets for "Corduroy" are also available. Tickets can be purchased by phone (618-453-6000), in person at the McLeod Theater or Banterra Center box offices, or online.

McLeod Theater box office hours are from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday through June 23. Banterra Center ticket office hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.