The Light in the Piazza
Book by Craig Lucas
Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel
Main Street Theater, Houston, TX
January 18, 2009
Ross Chitwood as Fabrizio and Haley Dyes as Clara. Photo by www.RicOrnelProductions.com
If you ever took a foreign language class and managed to sound like a third grader, the story of the 2005 Tony-winning musical, The Light in the Piazza, now playing at Main Street Theater (MST), will make a lot more sense. Based on Elizabeth Spencer's novella, the musical by Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel revolves around a mother, Margaret Johnson, and her daughter Clara on a trip to Italy. For the mother, it's an attempt to reclaim the meaning of her own marriage, for Clara, it's a chance for love, and an odd one at that. Due to a whack in the head from a feisty pony, Clara remains stuck at the stubborn age of 12. Amongst the glorious sights she meets and instantly falls in love with a dreamboat Italian boy, Fabrizio. His English matches her maturity level so it all works out. Gradually, the truth is revealed. But no matter, fabulous Fabrizio doesn't mind Clara's tantrums one little bit.
The MST production goes down like a fine Italian meal. Director Ron Jones conjures the charm and sensuality of Florence, allowing a relaxed, very Italian, pace. The cast, although vocally uneven, stays true to the fairy tale feeling. In the smitten son role is Ross A. Chitwood, whose velvety voice and love sick puppy eyes make a perfect fit for the role. Chitwood dominates, in a good way, every moment he is on stage. Haley Dyes, as Clara, glows in all the right moments. Susan Shofner, a stronger actor than singer, holds the tension of a mother who wants to do everything right by her daughter. David Grant delivers a smooth performance as Signor Naccarelli, Fabrizio's father, while Luisa Amaral-Smith's Signora Naccarelli infuses the show with zest and humor.
Liz Freese's set design is ripe with old world quaintness, and John Smetak gets the warm hue of the actual light in the piazza just right. Costumes by Macy Perrone are smart, sassy and very 1956. Musical direction by Glenn Sharp with Steven Jones on the piano, lets the gentle nature of these pleasing songs come through.
As the lights go down on the piazza with Clara and Fabrizio lost in each other's dreamy gaze, who cares if she ever grows up and he ever learns English. Love prevails always, especially in Italy.