Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Light in the Piazza

Book by Craig Lucasthe l.ight in the pizza by guettel & lucas

Music & Lyrics by Adam Guettel

Based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer

Directed Joe Leonardo

Music Direction by Ryan T. Nelson

Choreographer Sasha Vargas

At Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire

Intimate staging enhances romantic The Light In The Piazza

My third production of The Light In The Pizza, now in a romantic staging at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, proved to be the best sung production I’ve seen to date. Winner of six 2005 Tony Awards including best score, orchestration and set design, The Light in the Piazza is a romantic musical that is more operetta than musical comedy. This show has a bland score by Adam Guettel and romantic book by Craig Lucas set in the vivid backdrop of Florence, Italy. This romantic musical finds two American women on an extended vacation in 1953. Margaret Johnson (Mary Ernster) is enthralled by the art work of Florence while her younger daughter Clara (Summer Smart) sees Florence as the setting for her romantic dreams. When her hat blows off her head and is caught by Fabrizio (the likable Max Quinlan), the two are instantly smitten. Margaret is protective of Clara and attempts to keep the two apart. Early scenes demonstrate a child-like naiveté in the beautiful and sensual Clara. Margaret is the cultured, yet dominant and ultimately compassionate mother.

LITP - Summer_Smart_as_Clara,_Mary_Ernster_as_Margaret

Fabrizio, age 20, speaks little English but he declares his love for the seemingly lost beauty. Max Quinlan sells his love song about Clara in Italian deftly. Margaret is determined to keep them apart. But why? Hints of a problem with Clara abound. A determined Fabirizo finally get the two women to meet his family for tea. The Naccarellis family takes to Clara as Margaret can’t quite explain Clara’s problem. She is a “special child” due to a childhood accident.

LITP- Summer_Smart_as_Clara,_Max_Quinlan_as_Fabrizio_2

Later when Margaret finds Fabrizio, half dressed in Clara’s room, the two women move on to Rome where Clara and her mother get into a nasty argument over Clara’s desire to wed. Clara sings about the nature of love and she tells Margaret that her father never loved her mother and that she saw love in Fabirizio’s eyes. The two return to Florence and at the wedding rehearsal, Signor Naccarelli is distributed by Clara’s age (26) believing that the difference between Fabirizio’s age (20) and Clara (26) is too great. He calls off the wedding. Clara doesn’t understand and Margaret meets with Signor and in the song “Let’s Walk” convinces Signor that love will make the two youngsters a couple.

While I liked the score that sounds more like a film underscore than  show tune music, I think the lyrics don’t sit on the melodies of several songs. The lyrics and the music seem to fight one another. The orchestrations made several song lyrics hard to understand. The operatic tone and the singing in Italian gave the show a stuffy tone rather than a romantic one. Mary Ernster as Margaret delivered a commanding performance and Max Quinlan fine voice and winning charm made Fabrizio a lovable character. Summer Smart’s Clara exuded sensuality and vulnerability. The several strong romantic ballads gave the show a most romantic flare. Gene Weygandt and Paula Scrogano were terrific as the Naccarelli’s. Sasha Vargas and Peyton Royal added to the atmosphere as the street dancers.

The Light in the Piazza contains enough romance, European charm and a compelling story where love can overcome handicaps to render a worthy evening of theatre. The audience liked the show more than I did. I guess the arcane oblique lyrics were too much for me. Broadway musical lovers will either hate this show or love it.


Tom Williams

At Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL, call 847-634-0200, tickets $45 (dinner packages available), Wednesdays at 1 & 8 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 1 & 5 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through September 20, 2009

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