The 1992 best-selling novel “The Bridges of Madison County,” written by Robert James Waller brought readers a heart-wrenching story of a searing love affair. Port Jefferson’s 140-year-old non-profit theatre company, Theatre Three, brings the tear jerking story to Long Island under the direction of Jeffrey Sanzel.
Francesca Johnson is the lead character and incurable romantic played by TracyLynn Conner. She sweeps the audience off their feet — before she can get swept off her own — with her powerful vocals in the opening number “To Build a Home.” Husband and father Bud, played by Dennis Creighton, who plays husband and father Bud succeeds at presenting an affectionate and sarcastic character.
Alongside Bud are Francesca’s two quarreling kids, Michael played by Matthew Rafanelli and Carolyn played by Ella Watts. Their introduction demonstrates the chaotic yet sincere dynamic of what a family of four generally displays with their performance of “Home Before You Know It.”
The story unfolds when Robert Kinkaid, played by Brian Gill, is brought to Iowa for a National Geographic photo shoot. All too conveniently, Robert shows up at Francesca’s front door to ask for directions. The chemistry between the two is immediately undeniable, and Francesca is left pondering exactly what she is feeling upon meeting Robert. She presents her confusion perfecting every note and bringing purpose to each line with a flawless performance of “What Do You Call a Man Like That?”
The first act exquisitely builds a relationship between Robert and Francesca. The two’s admiration for each other becomes transparent, and we see the pain and despair in Francesca’s eyes the whole way through. In the tragically beautiful finale song of Act I, “Falling Into You,” the two express to each other that they feel all their life choices have somehow led them to each other. The passionate eye contact and movements throughout this gentle yet dramatic ballad leaves the audience on the edge of their seats yearning for more.
The show stopping moment takes place in the middle of Act II with back to back performances of “Before and After You” and “One Second and a Million Miles.” Arresting your mind and soul, herein lies the tear-jerking moment. These two songs brilliantly portray the indisputable love the two have for each other. Ardently exhibiting such intense emotions, they bring life to each and every lyric. The fire burns from the stage to the seat, and perhaps for a moment leaves the audience to forget they are in a theatre. As Robert proposes that Francesca drops it all and joins him on his journey, Francesca desperately battles between wanting Robert and wondering how she could leave the life she has built behind. This leaves the audience speculating eagerly: which life will she choose?
Francesca proceeds through the ups and downs of life with her family, always remembering and never regretting the way she opened her heart. Regardless of the decision made, Francesca did it all with love. She gracefully sits on a bench to serenade the audience with the finale song of Act II “Always Better,” and as you connect with her, she ties together an important message: “love is always better.”
Although an intensely romantic show with a few dejected themes, you can rely on the occasional chuckle and possible belly laugh from Amy Wodon Huben and Steve McCoy who play Marge and Charlie, the Johnson’s intrusive neighbors. Additionally, Randall Parson, the set designer, does a magnificent job at connecting the audience to the stage. The set design magnificently captures the sheltered, prominent bridges of the county and the simplicity of an Iowa home with just a few appliances and a symbolic screen door.
Students interested in seeing Theatre Three’s passionate rendition of “The Bridges of Madison County” can purchase tickets for $28. The musical will run through Oct. 28.