Also see John's review of Next Fall
The Light in the Piazza is the story of the adventures of mother and daughter American tourists Margaret and Clara Johnson, vacationing in Florence and Rome in the summer of 1953. Swept away by the romance of Italy, Clara meets and falls in love with a young Italian named Fabrizio Naccarelli. When Clara's mother Margaret learns of their affair, she opposes it for reasons that are gradually revealed to the audience. When Clara was a young girl, she was kicked in the head by a pony, and the accident has caused her mental and emotional abilities to develop abnormally. The result is that 26-year-old Clara, though lovely and sweet, may get confused at times, and reacts to some situations emotionally as would a child.
While the costumes, set and orchestrations for The Light in the Piazza are all pleasingly executed, it is the singing that makes this production momentous. The score is written in a style that is considered Neo-romantic classical music or light opera. Like an opera, the orchestrations may often seem to provide little melodic assistance to the singer. This musical therefore requires trained, experienced singers thoroughly prepared and rehearsed. The Stage Door Theatre exceeds expectations with a cast that sings this musical with breath-taking beauty. It is true that there is not a particular tune that audience members will walk out humming. Nor is there a dance number to leave you tapping your toe. That is not the way this musical is written.
Following in the footsteps of their previous production of A Little Night Music, the Stage Door Theatre has raised the bar for other local, professional theatres who focus on producing musicals. Too many of them persist in casting the same handful of comedic actors who can carry a tune, and passing them off as legitimate singers. Take notethis production is how it should be done.
Gabrielle Visser focuses on the meaty acting of the role of Margaret in a way that almost makes one forget she is singing the majority of her dialogue. The transitions into speaking seem quite natural. It is a pleasure to see a well written part for a middle-aged woman in musical theatre that doesn't make her the sassy sidekick. Natalie Ramirez (Franca) has the sexy appeal of a young Sophia Loren tied to a singing voice that rings with beauty. Jennifer Bennett as Signora Naccarelli has a brief moment of self-disclosure in the second act that reveals warmth and humor as well as a skillful singing voice.
Lara Hayhurst is a wonder as Clara. She possesses the physical and vocal beauty of the character, and captures the right child-like exuberance of the role. Moments in song, when she gushes forth notes with effortless sweet abandon, embody the nature that is Clara. Some lyrics are in Italian or broken English, as many of the characters are fluent only in Italian. Dylan Thompson, as Fabrizio, masters singing his songs with an Italian accent that only adds to the romantic sound of his voice. Individually good musicians, Thompson and Hayhurst are even better when brought together. Stephen Sondheim has referred to Guettel's work as "dazzling," and that is exactly what this production is from the first note to the very last.
Adam Guettel is the son of composer and author Mary Rodgers, and the grandson of prolific musical theatre composer Richard Rodgers, the recipient of multiple Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, Academy Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. Guettel's music is characterized by its complexity and chromaticism. His major musical influences, which include Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Benjamin Britten, are evident in his work. In addition to The Light in the Piazza his other work includes the musicals Floyd Collins, Love's Fire, and Saturn Returns (recorded as Myths and Hymns). He has also contributed original scores to several documentary films, including Arguing the World and Jack: The Last Kennedy Film.
The Light in the Piazza will be appearing at The Stage Door Theatre through April 10, 2011. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs are open year round. For tickets and information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoortheatre.com.
*Designates a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Inc., an independent national labor union.