Absolutely everything about this production of ‘The Light in the Piazza’ – a Western New York premiere – (it played at the Shaw Festival a few years ago) is simply beautiful. The starkly elegant set, the period perfect costumes, the casting, direction, and the music create a romantic and poignant night in Italy.
. . .simply beautiful
Director Loraine O’Donnell’s decision to pull the production off the elevated Opera House stage and put it on a thrust stage was inspired. This created a great audience vibe: we were part of Clara and Fabrizio’s love story. And what a love story! It plays like a contemporary Italian opera with flashes of Fellini cinema Italiano, too, as you’re drawn into this story of starry eyed love and parental protection. Mother and daughter Americans Margaret Johnson (Debbie Pappas Sham) and Clara Johnson (Kelly Copps) are vacationing in Florence in 1953, re-visiting the tourist spots from Margaret’s honeymoon. “It’s a city of statues and stories,” says Margaret as daughter Clara is sketching things that catch her eye. Clara is a “special child,” Margaret explains. To our eyes, Clara is a beautiful adult, but her charming childlike qualities soon appear. In a moment of theatre magic, Clara’s wide-brim hat flies away, to be caught by Fabrizio (Anthony Lazzaro). Their eyes meet, halting sweet words are exchanged, and Clara is determined to see him again.
Ah, love. Ah, parental agita over family secrets and cultural differences. The story unfolds as Clara and Margaret meet Fabrizio’s family. Marc Sacco is a hoot as the philandering brother Giuseppe. He has the facial expressions and moves down pat. Rebecca Runge as his wife Franca tries to warn Clara about life with a passionate Italian man in “The Joy You Feel.” Runge’s rich voice soars. Katy Miner is the matriarch with the spotlight in Act Two’s “Aiutami” (translation: help me). Matt Witten is the solid papa, proud, strong, protective in his own way.
It’s Margaret, Clara, and Fabrizio who win and warm the audience’s collective hearts. Pappas Sham is the stoic Southern mom: her tenderness as she sings “The Beauty Is” is breathtaking. Copps as Clara is that curious combination of innocent and passionate as she discovers love and struggles to claim her maturity. Lazzaro plays Fabrizio with a gentle wisdom and a powerful voice for love.
Allan Paglia led a string-dominated chamber ensemble that was lush and lovely, and stood up well to the powerful vocal talent in the cast.
The show’s music and lyrics were written by Adam Guettel and he lived up to grandfather Richard Rodgers’ roots by including an overture and entr’acte which are rare in contemporary musical theatre. But the whole show is that exquisite and rare moment, where musical styles collide and meld, language barriers are crossed, and true love triumphs.
Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
“The Light in the Piazza” runs until June 18, 2017, is produced by Second Generation Theatre Company and is presented at The Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.