Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Evita
The musical by Marsha Norman (book) and Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) did not have a long Broadway run, but Brown did win Tony Awards for both score and orchestrations. For the first week of the tour's stay in Washington, audiences also had the privilege of seeing the composer conducting the orchestra.
The story of a brief, transforming love affair between an Italian war bride and a National Geographic photographer in 1965 Iowa began as a 1992 novel by Robert James Waller and subsequently became a 1995 film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. Norman and Brown have added depth to the story of two people discovering their own reality together by adding the context of the people around them. Now, Francesca Johnson (Elizabeth Stanley) can describe her life in Naples during World War II and Robert Kincaid (Andrew Samonsky) can recount how he has seen the worldbut always through a camera's lens.
Stanley and Samonsky give impassioned performances and generate heat as Francesca tentatively emerges from her shell and Robert discovers an emotional connection he never thought he could have. Cullen R. Titmas has incisive moments as Francesca's husband Bud, slowly realizing how much he doesn't know about his wife, and Mary Callanan and David Hess provide comic counterpoint as Francesca's neighbors Marge and Charlie.
The pacing starts out deliberate and gradually becomes more fevered. If some of the early scenes between Robert and Francesca seem obvious, stay with it; the real full-throated declarations of love, in shimmering, long-lined duets, appear in the second act. Brown's deliberately eclectic score also offers thoughtful ballads, country and honky-tonk tunes, even a 1960s folk-rock song that suggests Joni Mitchell.
Bartlett Sher's direction recreated by Tyne Rafaeli emphasizes the comforting yet stifling restrictions of a small farming community by keeping members of the ensemble seated silently around the edges of the stage. When Bud and their fractious teenage children Michael (Bryan Welnicki) and Carolyn (Caitlin Houlahan) head for Indianapolis to enter Carolyn's prize steer in the Indiana State Fair, he assures Francesca in song that "You're Never Alone." More to the point, Marge is fascinated by the stranger in the pickup truck to the point of watching Francesca's house through binoculars.
Michael Yeargan's set design adapted by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams is simple and fluid, using rough-hewn wooden frames and gliding pieces of furniture, moved by members of the ensemble, to set the scenes. Donald Holder's lighting design brings mood-shaping color to the farm backdrop, from an intense golden yellow to deep rose and starry midnight blue.