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Theatre Three’s ‘Bridges of Madison County’ covers all emotions

TracyLynn Conner and Brian Gill star in

TracyLynn Conner and Brian Gill star in "The Bridges of Madison County" at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Credit: Theatre Three Productions

WHAT “The Bridges of Madison County”

WHERE Through Oct. 28, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson

INFO $35 ($28, seniors and students), 631-928-9100, theatrethree.com

BOTTOM LINE A weepy musical version of the novel. Bring tissues.

Read it and weep, the saying goes. And millions did, in 1992, when Robert James Waller published “The Bridges of Madison County,” a tearjerker of a novel that stayed on bestseller lists for more than three years.

The book, the story of a sad, lonely Italian war bride and her torrid affair with a National Geographic photographer assigned to photograph those famed Iowa bridges, was followed by a film in 1995 starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and then in 2014 by a musical (written by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown) that closed after only four months.

Now Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is giving the musical its Long Island premiere, in a striking production directed by Jeffrey Sanzel that’s well worth its nearly three hours of stage time.

As the lovers, Francesca Johnson (TracyLynn Conner) and Robert Kinkaid (Brian Gill) make you long for an ending that pretty much everyone knows is not to be. Francesca portrays her solitude and yearning with an almost imperceptible sigh that speaks volumes before singing “To Build a Home.” When Robert, searching for one of the hard-to-find bridges, shows up at her door — perhaps a bit too conveniently after Francesca’s husband and children depart on a four-day trip to the Iowa State Fair — the meeting is quietly incendiary. His emotionally sung “Temporarily Lost” captures his confusion.

Though essentially a two-person play, “Bridges” benefits from talented supporting players, notably Amy Wodon Huben and Steve McCoy as the nosy but loving neighbors, Dennis Creighton as Francesca’s somewhat clueless husband, and Ella Watts and Matthew Rafanelli as the constantly bickering kids. Adding to it all is an impressive set by Randall Parsons that evokes the covered bridges as it effortlessly flows from farmhouse to fair and more.

But it’s the love story that takes hold and won’t let go. Robert, before he turned up in Iowa, photographed Naples, and looking at his photographs of her native land, Francesca is plunged into deeper despair as she realizes all that is missing from her life. As the two sing the haunting “Falling Into You” at the end of the first act, their longing is palpable.

Ultimately, Francesca makes her choice, life flies by (people die, babies are born) and memories fade. But they are not forgotten, and as the lights come down, everyone in the theater is feeling the pain. See it . . . and weep.

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