The Light in the Piazza
Adam Guettel, composer; Craig Lucas, playwright
Broadway National Tour
Kennedy Center, Washington D.C.
December 19-January 7, 2006
(l to r) Christine Andreas as Margaret Johnson and Elena Shaddow as Clara
Johnson. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.
The Light In The Piazza
The Light In The Piazza by composer/lyricist Adam Guettel and book writer Craig Lucas is a pretty suite of music about a child-woman named Clara whose mother Margaret Johnson is shepherding her around Italy in the summer of 1953. In Florence, where the story is primarily set, Clara meets 20-year-old Fabrizio when her hat flies off her head in a gust of wind. He retrieves her hat and she steals his heart.
Because Clara, who is 26 years old, was kicked in the head by a pony when she was ten, Margaret is over protective. Margaret saw Clara fall from the pony and relives her guilt for not having been more careful. Moreover, Margaret’s father in transatlantic phone calls with his wife makes it known that he believes Clara cannot be trusted with adult responsibilities. The story of Clara and Fabrizio stand in direct contrast to the relationship of Clara’s parents. Although Margaret and her husband Roy had a joyful honeymoon in Florence, almost immediately as Margaret notes in the song “Dividing Day,” they were never united in love with each other.
The three-week run at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from December 19, 2006 to January 7, 2007 of this six-time Tony Award winning musical that premiered on Broadway in April 2005 features three outstanding performers: Christine Andreas (as Margaret), Elena Shaddow (as Clara), and David Burnham (as Fabrizio). Burnham performed in the Broadway production. Both Shaddow and Burnham excel in showing us innocent youngsters filled with energetic passions that feed this story. Andreas provides a mature and more complex portrait that draws on maternal and unrequited adult love. The entire cast provides satisfying vocal performances.
Those theatergoers who love and know Florence will be pleased with Michael Yeargan’s sets. These sets received Tony, Drama Desk, and Henry Hewes awards.
Guettel’s music (Tonies received for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations), which is lyric and written with effusive string orchestration, comes out of the old musical tradition. Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hart and of Rodgers and Hammerstein) was Guettel’s grandfather. Mary Rodgers (Once Upon A Mattress) is Guettel’s mother. Although Guettel studied with Stephen Sondheim and the number “Hysteria” has a Sondheim inflection, The Light In The Piazza does not take its cue from Sondheim’s unique sound. Guettle’s handling of The Light In The Piazza seems more like Lerner and Lowe’s musical Gigi. Take a song like “Passeggiata” that Fabrizio sings to Clara when he invites Clara to participate in the traditional evening walk that the Italians love to do. This piece creates the same sentimental kick as Maurice Chevalier in the Gigi film version singing about Gigi “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”
Another aspect of the music is its operatic touches not to mention the passages that are sung in the Italian language. “The Joy You Feel” sung by Fabrizio’s Aunt Franca clearly is an operatic aria. Laura Griffith as Franca portrays the spitfire wife of the philandering Giuseppe (Jonathan Hammond) and musically the operatic inflection is effective. Still, The Light In The Piazza will never be categorized as an opera. Whether it is music theater versus musical is the dilemma. However, the real question after the curtain goes down is how many people will want to see The Light In The Piazza more than once?
Karren L. Alenier