The book by Robert James Waller was an international hit that sold 60 million copies world-wide. Some critics panned it as sentimental and trivial but its simplicity and the short-lived, life-changing romance it depicts obviously captured the readers’ imagination.
Then it was made into a movie in 1995 and finally into a musical in 2013. Well, after seeing the Public Theater of San Antonio’s production at the San Pedro Playhouse, I can confidently state that the musical is the best version of the work. With lovely songs by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown, beautiful voices all-round and an impressive staging directed by J. Scott Lapp, the show is quite engaging and enjoyable.
Though it’s usually difficult to beat film in the story-telling department, this production manages to convey attitudes, moods and the finer nuances of relationships convincingly, successfully employing even scenery changes to complement the visual aspects of the narrative.
Mary Morrow, who has performed with the Alamo City Opera and the Mastersingers, lends her clear soprano to the main female character, Francesca, an Italian girl from Naples, who married an American soldier during WWII and moved to a farm in Iowa with him. When we meet them, Francesca and Bud (Robby Vance) have been married for years and have two teenage children (Campbell Wilford and Ramsey Marion Sweatmon). She still longs for “Napoli” occasionally but she has adjusted to her life in America as a farm wife and mother.
But when Robert Kincaid (Nick Szoeke), a photographer with National Geographic magazine stops to ask her for direction to a bridge he wants to photograph, her life takes an unexpected turn. They only have four days together before her husband and kids return from the state fair, but those four days change their lives forever. Szoeke is an excellent vocalist, too, who also looks right for the part.
The super romantic story premise may not ring entirely true but what does ring true is the choice Francesca makes to stay with her husband rather than pursue a new and potentially exciting life with Robert. As portrayed by Vance – an ATAC Globe Award winner – Bud is a sympathetic hard-working man who still thinks that his wife is “like something from a dream” but is not inclined to romantic gestures and declarations. Yet he calls her several times a day during his stay at the state fair. In fact, the whole community is depicted as decent and caring, including the sometimes-nosy neighbor Marge (Katy Stafford Gallindo, another ATAC Globe Award winner)) and her laidback husband Charlie (Chip Wood).
The entire ensemble rises to the occasion musically, a credit to music director Darrin Newhardt. The Public has the best theatrical sound system in town and every song is a pleasure to listen to in this show, and there are lots of them. The scenes are gorgeously lit by lighting designer Dan “Doc” Heggem, and, as already mentioned, the scenic design allows for great flexibility in story-telling, with the folks carrying various scenery elements often looking like silent witnesses to the lives of the main characters.
For times and ticket prices call 210-733-7258 or go to www.thepublicsa.org
Photos (from top): Mary Morrow and Nick Szoeke as Francesca and Robert; Robby Vance as Bud