Theatre review: The Light in the Piazza is a challenging piece of musical theatre

Challenging for both cast and audience, The Light in the Piazza is a sophisticated piece of musical theatre that appears to revel in its complexity.  And while the cast of the Patrick Street Production, currently on stage at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre, is up to the challenge, audiences may not have such an easy time of it.

Based on the 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza is set in the summer of 1953 in Florence, Italy where Clara and her mother Margaret are visiting from the United States.  A chance encounter on the streets of the city propels Clara and the handsome young Italian Fabrizio into each other’s arms as they instantly fall in love.  However, not everything is as it seems as we discover Clara is perhaps not quite all the young woman we think she is, and she struggles against her mother’s over-protective manner.

Challenge one: the book.  While this basic storyline from writer Craig Lucas sounds like pretty much every other boy-meets-girl musical theatre romance, things are not quite as straightforward.  Not only is there the dynamic between Clara and her mom and the love-at-first-sight romance between Clara and Fabrizio, but also a stereotypical exploration of Fabrizio and his Italian family which, while remaining true to the show’s source material, seems at odds with the seriousness that surrounds it.

Challenge two: the music.  Adam Guettel’s music and lyrics moves into operatic territory for much of the show, leaving only a small handful of songs which could be recognizable to most as musical theatre.  He also serves up entire songs in Italian without the aid of translation.  One would never guess this was Richard Rodger’s grandson.

Despite the challenges, this cast and production team commits wholeheartedly to everything that Lucas and Guettel throws at them. Katey Wright gives a wonderful balance between motherly sternness and love for her daughter with a wonderful voice and a pinpoint accuracy in the comedy.  Samantha Hill’s Clara matches nicely with Wright and delivers one of the most beautiful songs of the night in the title number.  Adrian Marchuk as the handsome Italian Fabrizio is a pleasure.  Even when forced into the Italian stereotypes he is breathtaking.  Despite being all hands and gestures, his performance is definitely from the heart.  As Fabrizio’s family, David Adams, Heather Pawsey, Daren Herbert and Dana Luccock provide great support and a wonderfully wild contrast to the more uptight Americans.

Samantha Hill and Adrian Marchuk in the Patrick Street Productions presentation of The Light in the Piazza
Samantha Hill and Adrian Marchuk in The Light in the Piazza.  Photo by Ross den Otter.

Set designer Lance Cardinal’s moveable set of frames, combined with Alan Brodie’s luscious lighting and Jessica Dmytryshyn’s equally luscious and authentic costumes makes this one of the most beautiful shows I have seen in a long time.  Musical Director Sean Bayntun helps keep the small orchestra of piano, strings and harp on target through Guettel’s complex music.

The Light in the Piazza is definitely not for a casual musical theatre audience, but if you’re up for it, you’ll walk away with an appreciation in this production’s ability to rise to those challenges.

3 Out of 5 Stars The Light in the Piazza

Book by Craig Lucas.  Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel.  Directed by Peter Jorgensen.  A Patrick Street Productions presentation.  On stage at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre through October 9, 2011.  Visit for tickets and information.

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