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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Exquisite Production of
The Light In the Piazza

Also see Richard's reviews of Annie Get Your Gun and The Witch's Curse: Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddygore

San Francisco is privileged to be the first to present the national tour of Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas' The Light in the Piazza. The gorgeous musical is playing at the Orpheum Theatre through August 27th. Piazza opened on Broadway in April 2005 and quickly became a favorite of critics and audiences. The Lincoln Center Vivian Beaumont Theatre run was extended through July 2, 2006.

Adam Guettel's musical is sublime and very melodic. You might not go out of the theatre humming the tunes but you will remember the mood of the inspirational score. It is probably one of the best romantic scores since Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story and is reminiscent of a Sondheim score in some scenes. The Light in the Piazza is less a musical and more a chamber opera. It is based on Elizabeth Spencer's 1959 novella of the same title. The plot is romantic but does not go overboard into sentimentally.

The Light in the Piazza
Jonathan Hammond, Laura Griffith, David Burnham, David Ledingham,
Elena Shaddow, Diane Sutherland and Christine Andreas

The Light in a Piazza centers around proper Southern Baptist mother Margaret Johnson (Christine Andreas) and her 26-year-old daughter Clara (Elena Shaddow) who are on an extended trip to Florence, Italy. The mother is revisiting the old haunts that she had experienced with her husband when they were first wed. On a chance meeting in the piazza, Clara meets 20-year-old Fabrizio Naccarelli (David Burnham) and it is love at first sight. The protective mother initially objects to the affair because there is a secret about the daughter. We find out that Clara had a bad accident at age 12 and, even though her body had continued to develop, she is stuck mentally at age 12. So the problem arises as to whether or not Margaret should stop Clare's impending marriage. She knows this could be Clara's one chance for pure happiness.

Christine Andreas gives a fine performance as Margaret Johnson. She has a commanding voice and acts the character with hardened candidness. (On opening night there was a sound problem, especially in the first scene in the piazza and also it looked as if the actors had not fine tuned their roles. However, that was cleared up by the second scene.) She is marvelous going from opposing to approving the marriage of the two young lovers.

Elena Shaddow has a radiant soprano voice, especially when singing the captivating "The Beauty Is." David Burnham, who played Fabrizio on Broadway, has a dynamic voice; the young couple's duets are enchanting. Although sung in Italian, you get the impression that this young man is pouring his heart out for Clara in the delightful operatic "Il Mondo Era Vuoto."

David Ledingham is excellent as Fabrizio's worldly father. He exudes charm with his full flavored voice. Jonathan Hammond is a wonderful Italian stereotype as Fabrizio's older, married brother Giuseppe whose wife is the the angry, jealous, voluptuous Franca (Laura Griffith). Brian Sutherland plays Margaret's husband who has stayed in Winston Salem; it is a good performance in a non-singing role. Diane Sutherland as the mother of Fabrizio who speaks only Italian breaks character after a hectic and awkwardly staged number called "Aiutami" at the start of the second act to tell the audience in English abut the duplicity of her own marriage. She gives an effective performance in the role. The rest of cast who take on smaller roles are all very good.

Michael Yeargan's sets are basically the same as the intricate, sepia-colored, integrated sets in the Lincoln Center production. They seem to float into an endless number of new configurations to create multiple locations. Christopher Akerlind's painterly lights glisten through the Florence mornings, sunny afternoon and lovely evening afterglows. The cast looks fine in the smart 1950s chic of Catherine Zuber's costumes. Bartlett Sher's direction is spot on.

Light in the Piazza plays at the Orpheum Theatre through August 27th. For tickets call Ticketmaster at 415-512-7770, or visit ticketmaster.com and all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers. Tickets can also be purchased at the theatre box office located a Market and 8th, San Francisco.


Photo: Joan Marcus


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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