Light in the Piazza is based on a novella of the same name, and tells the story of a woman named Margaret and her daughter Clara travelling to Italy in the 1950s, a place Margaret hasn't visited since her honeymoon with her now-distant (geographically and emotionally) husband. Clara meets a local boy named Fabrizio and falls in love. Margaret has dedicated her life to protecting her daughter, for reasons that become clear as the story unfolds, but begins to see that perhaps it's time to let Clara grow up in her own way. We also meet Fabrizio's complicated family. This is a story about many kinds of love, Clara and Fabrizio's innocent and sweet new love, the complicated love of several married couples, and perhaps most touching of all, the love between a mother and daughter whose lives have revolved around each other for years.
|young lovers Fabrizio and Clara|
(Aleks Knezevich and Jessica Fredrickson)
photo by Michal Daniel
The music of The Light in the Piazza is something quite special. I remember reading that Adam Guettel first composes all of the music, then goes back and adds lyrics where necessary. Several of the songs are sung party or entirely in Italian, and unlike at the opera, there is no English translation available. But with music this emotional and expressive, you don't need to know exactly what Fabrizio is saying in "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" to understand what he's feeling. Some of the singing is neither English nor Italian, just a wordless singing that is pure musical expression, as in the touching love song "Say It Somehow." Fabrizio and Clara don't speak the same language, but somehow they understand each other. Similarly, the audience doesn't need to have the words spelled out to understand the emotion of the scene. The five-piece orchestra (directed by Denise Prosek) is much smaller that the original Broadway production; it has been stripped down to the essentials - piano, violin, cello, bass, and harp (harp!). In the intimate space of the Ordway McKnight Theatre, it's just right.
|Clara and her mother in Florence|
(Jessica Fredrickson and Kathleen Humphrey)
photo by Michal Daniel
As Margaret sings in the final number, love may be a "Fable," but The Light in the Piazza makes you believe. It's a wistful, dreamy, romantic fairy tale. But it's not all sweetness and light, there's enough harsh reality to keep you grounded. It's a fitting conclusion to what has been another wonderful season for Peter Rothstein and Theater Latte Da. It began with Sondheim's Company last fall, which, despite being 40 years old, felt like a contemporary and often cynical look at modern marriage. Then came Aida, a big spectacular Broadway-style rock musical. The Light in the Piazza is a gorgeous new musical that feels like a classic. This season has displayed a really nice variety that showcases Latte Da's talent at bringing musical theater to life.
Go see this gorgeous new classic, playing now through April 7, and like me, you will leave the theater singing, "now is... I am... happiness!"
*Light in the Piazza won six Tony Awards in 2005 (including best score), but was beat out for best musical by Spamalot, which I'm coincidentally seeing today. (Update: Spamalot is great fun, but doesn't compare to beauty of this piece.)