It's the tale of Francesca, a Second World War bride from Naples who marries an American GI and moves to a farm in Iowa when her own love doesn't return from the front. Twenty years later, in the mid-60s, she has two teenage children and a settled life with Bud on his farm. The family goes off to the state fair but Francesca stays at home.
Out of the blue a photographer drives up to the house to ask for directions to one of the covered bridges the area is famous for and she offers to show him. Then, as an Italian lady, she can't send Robert off to a hotel without feeding him and so it begins. Meeting someone new who had recently been to her home town of Napoli opens up yearning and dreams in Francesca. A couple of days later and they are in love, the connections are all there but she has a husband and children. The children win and she bids him farewell. But that's not the end of the play, o no. I won't spoil the surprise for those of you new to the story.
I really liked the set which was basically an empty, open space with wooden floor and walls, like an empty barn, which then opened up to allow a kitchen to appear and swing out onto the stage, or a bedroom or the state fair with its singing and dancing. At one point, we even get part of one of the famous bridges appearing when Robert is waiting for the light to be right for his photographs. Different scenes are projected onto the bare walls at times to open up the stage. I thought it was really clever and the only downside was seeing a couple of stagehands behind the scenes from where I was sitting.
I thought Jenna was excellent as Francesca, playing her with a slight Italian accent that seemed to get stronger when she spoke or sang of her home and family in Naples, lending a more exotic edge to the songs. She brings a nice vulnerability and care to the part, a brave women who travelled alone to Iowa and her husband after the war and made a go of it, raising two children and working on the farm. Jenna seems to be seeing this as her swan song as a romantic lead as she moves more into character acting but I think she's got a while to go yet.
Full credit to Jason Robert Brown for the songs and Marsha Norman for the book and together they've crafted a really good show. It was directed by Trevor Nunn and the set was designed by Jon Bauson. I loved it and have already booked to go back and see it again, this time in different seats. Well done everyone.