Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Piazza Re-Lights at the Paramount

Also see David's interview with Christine Andreas

Katie Rose Clarke
Three years ago, playwright Craig Lucas provided a gently funny and emotionally rich book, and composer/lyricist Adam Guettel offered a feast of song when The Light In The Piazza world-premiered at Seattle's Intiman Theatre as a tasteful, gorgeously melodic and emotionally rich chamber musical, but one that seemed likely to sustain only a limited engagement in a Broadway more used to applauding spectacle, broad comedy and Disney's family oriented shows. After further out of town tinkering, with Intiman artistic director Bartlett Sher expertly assuming the directorial reins from Lucas and the replacement of actress Celia Keenan-Bolger in the pivotal role of Clara with the more appropriate Kelly O'Hara, the show opened to largely wonderful reviews at Lincoln Center, multiple Tony Award nominations (with wins for lead actress Victoria Clark and Guettel's score, as well as lighting design, scenic design, costume design and orchestrations) and an extended run of over a year. The cross-country national tour arrived at the Paramount last night; for those visiting The Light in the Piazza anew or for the very first time, rest assured that all is well, and then some.

Based on Elisabeth Spencer's novella, which became a rather glossy but still entertaining Olivia de Havilland film at MGM in 1962, The Light In The Piazza, set primarily in Florence, Italy, 1953, is a testament to the power of love and allowing for life's small miracles. Margaret Johnson, a still vivacious Southern matron, and her charming, childlike, twenty-something daughter Clara are on vacation in Florence, where Clara falls wildly in love with the charming and handsome Fabrizio Naccarelli, son of a suave shop owner. Margaret's protectiveness towards Clara, born from the accident that left her daughter frozen in time at the emotional (though not physical) level of a pre-teen, leads to her obvious attempts to keep the budding romance from flowering, and eventually, after many unexpected turns both comic and nearly tragic, Margaret helps her daughter fight for what may be a once in a lifetime shot at love and marriage.

Broadway veteran Christine Andreas is vocally and emotionally riveting as Margaret, a role quite different from the musical comedy heroines she essayed early in her career. If not as natural a fit in the role as Victoria Clark was, Andreas is still an exceptional presence, hitting wonderful moments of both comedy and pathos. With her passionate "Dividing Day" and soaring final number "Fable" she earns the standing ovation she receives. Katie Rose Clark, who played Clara following O'Hara at Lincoln center, is beguiling, funny and blessed with a shimmeringly lovely soprano that sits ideally on Guettel's songs for Clara, especially the title song. She is well matched with David Burnham, who in any language is a splendid Fabrizio, and glorious when he sings the lovely "Love to Me, " "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" (in perfect Italian), and then duets with Clarke on "Say it Somehow" or"Passeggiata."

Offering solid support as the fiery and funny Naccarelli clan are David Ledingham, sensual and debonair as Fabrizio's father; Diana DiMarzio earning laughs as Fabrizio's mother who sometimes addresses the audience in flawless English; Wendi Bergamini, as the splendidly pouty daughter-in-law Franca; and Jonathan Hammond a perfect handsome dolt as older but not wiser son (and cad) Giuseppe.

Michael Butterell's musical staging adds just enough movement to this essentially dance-free musical, while Ted Sperling and Adam Guettel's orchestrations are as magical as ever. The sound at the Paramount rose to the occasion, supporting the actors voices and not losing any lyrics. The rightfully Tony-winning sets by Michael Yeargan have been reconfigured admirably from the Lincoln Center stage to the more conventional proscenium configuration for the tour, and still benefit from the graceful lighting design by Christopher Akerlind. Catherine Zuber's gorgeous costumes capture the time and place of the story with effortless grace.

The Light in the Piazza runs through April 29, 2007 at the Paramount Theater, 911 Pine Street. For more information, visit

Photo: Joan Marcus

- David-Edward Hughes

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