Scenario Two’s production of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, one of the few contemporary musicals written in a style that harkens back to the Golden Age, is beautifully sung with the composer’s complicated and melodious score performed by a superb orchestra. The production has arrived at Lyric Opera for a special holiday engagement. The musical focuses on Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara, who take a vacation to Florence, Italy in the summer of 1953-and find their lives forever changed after Clara has a chance encounter with Fabrizio Nacarelli, a young Italian man. It should come as little surprise that Renèe Fleming has a radiant turn as Margaret. Vocally, Fleming’s take on the role is pristine, but she also plays out the tension between Margaret’s fiercely protective instincts when it comes to her child and her yearning to empower Clara to lead her own life as a young adult. While I wish to avoid spoilers, it’s key to share that the musical has a twist that includes a revelation about Clara that shines light on precisely why Margaret feels so compelled to keep watch over her daughter.
Guettel’s score is complex and beautiful, but it also has an overall mellow feel to it—even as the emotions of love and nostalgia in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA are grand. The compositions are mostly sweeping ballads, which provide moments for each of the principals to shine. And director Daniel Evans has certainly assembled a first-rate cast. Fleming is not the only stand-out performer here. Solea Pfeiffer is magnificent as Clara. Pfeiffer’s vocals are pristine. She seems to float with ease into Clara’s challenging vocal lines, but she also plays the character’s naivete and unabashed straightforwardness fully. Her delivery underscores the tension between the complexity of the music, and the simplicity of Clara’s thoughts and feelings (also made clear through Craig Lucas’s book). Rob Houchen demonstrates equal vocal prowess as Fabrizio and his take on the role has an earnest sweetness that never feels false. Alex Jennings is also compelling as Signor Nacarelli. Together, the four principals do not disappoint and all are equally gifted in delivering Guettel’s complex vocals.
As to be expected from any Lyric production, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is a visual wonder. Robert Jones has designed a set that easily allows audiences to envision themselves in one of Florence’s famed piazzas. Brigette Reiffenstuel’s dreamy and detailed costume designs similarly lend themselves to the production.
This was my first viewing of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, and while Guettel’s score is incredible, I must say some of the storyline gave me pause. The musical was adapted from Elizabeth Spencer’s 1960 novella of the same name, and some of the plot details feel implausible. The revealing plot twist about Clara feels a bit far-fetched as the musical’s catalyst, and Margaret’s 180-degree transformation and willingness to let go after years of being wildly overprotective feels rushed. Still, Fleming and Pfeiffer play out the mother-daughter dynamic beautifully and convincingly.
Above all, I could not imagine four better actors in the principal roles than Scenario Two has found for THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. Audiences curious to see one of the most notable modern-day musicals would do well to hear Guettel’s score sung in this production.
Scenario Two’s THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA plays a limited engagement at Lyric Opera, 20 North Wacker Drive, through December 29. Tickets are $35-$219. Visit lightinthepiazzamusical.com.
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com