Review By Michelle Fisher
From a well loved novel, to the 1995 film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, and then the 2014 Broadway opening of the musical with lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by Marsha Norman, this love story appears to be able to transcend all mediums.
The story is simple, sometimes a little cheesy, but the dilemmas and decisions needing to be made are complex, relevant and heartfelt. The story revolves around Francesca, an Italian warbride who marries an American soldier when her Italian fiance fails to return to Naples after the war. Her soldier takes her away from war torn Europe to his home in Iowa where for 18 years she raises 2 children and builds a home. But it is a simple and lackluster life where she cooks and cleans and even with her relationship with her husband is dull and monotal, much like the landscape of the country around her.
Then, by chance, when her husband takes her teenage children to a country fair for 3 days, her life is turned upside down. National Geographic Photographer, Robert Kincade, comes to town to take photos of the famous covered bridges, and after stopping at Francesca's for directions, the two embark on a whirlwind 4 day relationship where she glimpses a life that could have been, or in fact could be, if she takes the chance.
Kate Maree Hoolihan is fabulous as Francesca, gorgeous in her vocals and truly believable in her role. She is perfectly imperfect - trying to be the perfect consummate Iowa wife, where everyone has each other's back but is simply happy with the everyday and mundane farm life, whilst yearning for a more exciting life...a European life with travel, dancing and romance.
Ian Stenlake assumes the role of photographer Robert who sweeps Francesca off her feet and shows her excitements of life that Francesca has relegated only to her dreams. Stenlake's vocals too are strong and he is the perfect compliment to Hoolihan's Francesca. Together, their songs, including 'who we are and who we want to be,' 'before and after you,' and 'one second and a million miles,' show the depths of their love created even in the short space of 4 days and the angst of having to leave each other.
A well rounded cast compliment Hoolihan and Stenlake with Beth Daly playing Marge as my personal stand out. Her character is witty and sassy with a good lend of compassion and Daly pulls off the nosy yet loyal neighbour with aplomb. Again, her vocals command the stage and she is a delight to listen to and watch as the character takes over every inch of her face, expressions and mannerisms.
Neil Gooding directs a well oiled production, ably assisted by an interesting and well designed set created by James Browne, which moves with fluidity courtesy of a clever collaboration between Browne, Gooding and choreographer Leah Howard. The first reveal of this clever set has the audience engaged and rooting for this production - it's a very stylised use of the otherwise small Hayes space. However, the repetition of this movement of set does wear on the audience a little and the excitement it offers early in the evening dwindles. Anna Gardener's costuming is carefully constructed to offer appropriate and believable representations of these characters. Phoebe Pilcher's lighting design transports you into the plains of Iowa with wide open skies and lovely sunset colourings.
All in all, this is a production well worth your night at the theatre, and at 111 seats, you'll still be . able to go for weeks to come. It's a good all rounder - you'll leave having been both visually and vocally entertained.
Image Credit: Grant Leslie
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.