Beverly FriendREVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre Reviews

Light in the Piazza

Book by Craig LucasLight in the piazza
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer
Directed by Michael Leeds

Light in the Piazza Shines on Romance

Music transcends language, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Act II of Light in the Piazza when Fabrizio Naccarelli agonizes in Italian over the loss of his loved one, American tourist Clara Johnson. No one can doubt his angst, reinforced by his whole family as they join in empathetic chorus. In fact, one of the most creative and delightful aspects of this romance is the intermingling of English and Italian in dialogue as well as song. The potential for understanding – and misunderstanding – echoes the potential misalliance between handsome Florentine Fabrizio and winsome, lovely Clara, a “special child,” injured by an accident at age 12 and left with immature emotions and intellect.

Light in the piazza

Can a romance between these two bloom?  Is it ethical not to forewarn the potential groom and his family? What appears to be a questionable plot line is transcended by the role of Clara’s mother, Margaret, played with great verve and sympathy by Gabrielle Visser. It is really her story as – learning from her own romantic experience – she moves from brittle guardian to compassionate supporter of her daughter’s opportunity for happiness. Margaret sustains the play, and her insights and new personal maturity spark her change of heart and direction. Can she let go of her child? And even if she can, should she?

The Stage Door ensemble is excellent: Lara Hayhurst is appealing as the mercurial, vulnerable, naive and unaware Clara. Dylan Thompson plays a charming and charmed,  ardent Fabrizio, surrounded by a charismatic family: Bruce Rebold as his bombastic yet loving father; Jennifer Bennett as his understanding, supportive mother; Tony Ramos as the philandering brother, Giuseppe;  and  Natalie Ramirez as Giuseppe’s  nervous, jealous wife Franca. The chemistry between the Fabrizio and Clara is so palpable and their relationship is so filled with joy that the audience cannot help but emotionally root for their happiness – no matter how, intellectually, they might question the premise.

The score is unique – combining opera and classical music – often sustained by pure notes rather than lyrics. While there are no memorable tunes, the whole effect enriches the play. The inventive score defies categorization and has been called Sondheimesque and compared with the styles of Brahms, Schoenberg, and Broadway musical director, and orchestrator Ted Sperling.

Based on the 1960 novel by Elizabeth Spencer, Light in the Piazza was made into a movie in 1963 starring Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux, and George Hamilton. Over 40 years passed before Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel transformed the work into a musical. This incarnation opened on Broadway in 2003 (continued at the Goodman Theater in Chicago in 2004) and  won six Tony awards:  for Original Score, Leading Actress in a Musical,  Scenic Design, Costume Design, Lighting Design and Orchestrations, as well as Drama Desk Awards and Awards from the Outer Critics Circle.

Beverly Friend
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At the Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W Sample Rd, Coral Springs, Florida. Call 954-344-7765, Tickets $38-42 Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturday and Sundays 2 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 7 p.m. through April 10.

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