An independent company presenting interesting work is to be encouraged and applauded, and Life Like Company’s production of The Light in the Piazza is a winner. With music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers’ grandson Adam Guettel and book by Craig Lucas, based on a 1959 story by Elizabeth Spencer, there is a high level of interest and curiosity in what this musical will be like.
The strength of the production, which won six Tony awards on Broadway, begins with its unusual and interesting story. Middle-aged wealthy American mother Margaret is taking her “unconventional” daughter Clara on a cultural tour of Florence, where Margaret and her husband once spent some happy time after the war. Clara is a sweet girl who appears young for her age, for reasons which are eventually revealed and cause some drama and conflict. Clara meets a young Italian, Fabrizio, and falls in love, which leads to a number of dilemmas for her mother and her potential in-laws. As they say in the classics, the course of true love never did run smooth, but after much sturm and drang, a pleasing resolution is achieved.
As director Theresa Borg points out in her program notes, having a woman of “a certain age” (code for over 35!) as the central character in a musical is unusual, and the burden of this falls on the very capable shoulders of Chelsea Plumley. Chelsea has always been a natural comic with a powerhouse voice, hut it’s her ability as an actor to use silence and pathos alongside her trademark timing that has her hit the heights as Margaret. A fine performance deserving of an award nomination.
As her daughter Clara, Genevieve Kingsford is quite beautiful, achieving the balance of sweetness and naivety as the reason for her behaviour is gradually revealed. Young singer Jonathan Hickey as her lovelorn swain Fabrizio is outstanding – a natural, free voice and fine acting – definitely a name to watch in the future. Josh Piterman is more used to playing romantic heroes than sleazy brothers, but as Giuseppe he proves equal to the task. Anton Berezin as Fabrizio’s father gives a fine acting performance, believable, sympathetic, and occasionally fiery. As his wife, Signora Naccarelli, Johanna Allen brings a fine stage presence and delightful voice. In the difficult role as Margaret’s none-too-happy husband back in America, plus a few small cameos, Jeremy Stanford delivers an assured performance. Madison Green as Giuseppe’s troubled wife Franca has the right balance of fire and frustration.
Another unusual aspect of the production is the fact that the heads of the creative team are all female – director Theresa Borg, marvellous musical director Vanessa Scammell and choreographer Joanne Robinson, all of whom do a great job. Costumes by Kim Bishop are superb, with a wonderful colour palette against a backdrop of paintings up high. Bold colours of red, orange, green and pink for the strong female characters contrast well with the softer colours and white wedding dress for Clara. From an aesthetic perspective, this production looks superb.
My only reservations are that sung dialogue is sometimes difficult to hear, as the emotion of the songs get in the way of the clarity of the diction, especially when several characters are singing. And people will have different opinions of the score – although it won a Tony Award for Best Original Score, I found it took me until interval to really embrace what I was hearing. However, by the end of the show, it had swept me along in its wake, and Vanessa Scammell’s small orchestra does it proud.
The Light in the Piazza is a musical with high drama, perfectly cast, and definitely worth the price of the ticket. I look forward to the next production from this innovative company.