Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Light in the Piazza, Oct 28, 2016 ****

Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, book by Craig Lucas, adapted from Elizabeth’s Spencer’s novel; produced by Life Like Company 
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until Nov 6, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Oct 31, 2016 and later in print. KH
 Centre: Genevieve Kingsford, Chelsea Plumley_ PHOTO BEN FON

The Light in the Piazza is an impassioned, contemporary musical about an old-fashioned, boy-meets-girl love story delivered with operatic passions and a neo-romantic, classical score by Adam Guettel.

Craig Lucas’s book, based on Elizabeth Spencer’s 1953 novella and set in Florence in the 1950s, follows Margaret Johnson (Chelsea Plumley), a refined, wealthy woman from North Carolina, as she travels in Italy, accompanied by her pretty but intellectually limited daughter, Clara (Genevieve Kingsford).

Margaret nostalgically recalls the romance of her pre-war honeymoon in Florence with her now absent and inattentive husband (Jeremy Stanford), but she doesn’t plan for Clara’s rapidly escalating, obsessively passionate, Romeo and Juliet-style romance with Fabrizio Naccarelli (Jonathan Hickey), a young Italian who falls for Clara across a crowded piazza.

Guettel’s score, performed here under Vanessa Scammell’s impressive musical direction, often thrills with soaring orchestrations, complex melodic lines and layered harmonies.

His songs are reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim’s style, although not all Guettel’s tunes are memorable and some of his lyrics are a little opaque.

In this moving and enthralling production, with assured direction by Theresa Borg, heightened emotions drive the story and compel all characters to sing about their desires and fears, driven by the beauty and passion of their glorious Italian surroundings.

The Florentine family (Hickey, Josh Piterman, Madison Green, Anton Berezin, Johanna Allen) has entire scenes spoken in Italian without subtitles, emphasising the ardent authenticity of the Italians, although some of their interactions caricature Italians as loud, jealous, interfering or philandering.

With her warm, true tone, vocal control and range, Plumley is outstanding as Margaret, singing the complex melodies of Dividing Day and The Beauty Is, as well as the hopeful, opening duet with Clara, Statues and Stories, and the gently romantic duet with Anton Berezin as Signor Naccarelli, Walk With Me.
Chelsea Plumley_ PHOTO BEN FON
As the narrator at the centre of the production and with her accomplished acting, Plumley balances wry and witty delivery with poignant narration and the fierce actions of a protective mother.

While Kingsford plays the childlike Clara with naiveté and girlish gaucheness, singing The Light in the Piazza with sweetness and gentle emotion, she shifts gears and becomes a firecracker during Clara’s out-of-control moment, singing Hysteria.

Hickey has a joyful boyishness as Maurizio, and his bright tenor is sensitive and expressive singing his impassioned solo, Il Mondo Era Vuoto (The world was empty), and his romantic duet with Kingsford, Say It Somehow, is a glorious ending to Act One.
Jonathan Hickey, Genevieve Kingsford, PHOTO BEN FON
The entire cast provides evocatively layered harmonies in the fervent choruses of Aiutami and Octet, and each performer plays multiple roles that, in conjunction with Tom Willis’s atmospheric design, conjure the Florentine piazza, Uffizi Gallery and the Naccarellis’ plush home.

The Light in the Piazza is a touching and simple love story with a rich score and a (mostly) happy ending that will thrill the romantics in the audience.

By Kate Herbert

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