Light in the Piazza

Samantha Hill & Adrian Marchuk; Photo by David CooperLight in the Piazza
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Book by Craig Lucas
Direction and musical staging by Peter Jorgenson
Musical Director Sean Bayntun
Patrick Street Productions
Annette and Norman Rothstein Theatre
Sept 15 to  Oct 9th, 2011

Vancouver, BC: In musing about my response to the show, I finally concluded that I really admired the production but was a little disappointed in the work itself. So what on earth do I mean by that? In brief, the production values from cast, musicians and the creative/technical teams were excellent but I just could not connect with the music.

Samantha Hill & Adrian marchuk. Photo by Ross den OtterI guess for me contemporary show music is a bit like drinking an ultra-dry Alsace style Gewürtztraminer or Riesling versus one from the Mosel or Rheingau. Both may be exceptional quality but I enjoy the latter far more. Having read previous critical raves about Guettel's music I was hoping, and I think, expecting, the melodic music of the old style musicals, from which tunes continue to play in my head long after I have left the theatre. Instead, as several of us agreed, we enjoyed the orchestral music and admired the ability of the cast to sing those intricate songs but the songs were not memorable, at least to our musically unsophisticated ears.

But let me put that rant about modern musicals aside and say that overall I loved this show. Set designer Lance Cardinal turned the  proscenium into  a giant picture frame,  open on the bottom.  Smaller freestanding frames could be slid into different positions to suggest piazzas, museums and bedrooms. Switching a chair could change an outdoor cafe setting into a restaurant.  What looked like a piece of fractured frame, evoked the ruined columns of ancient Rome. Designer Alan  Brodie "lit the piazzas" to give a warm romantic feel. And I loved the dresses by Jessica Dmytryshyn. Especially Clara's change from the girlishly pretty cream coloured dress of the first act, to the more sophisticated black and white frock in act two. Margaret's attire perfectly evoked a  fussy matronly style.

Katey Wright. Photo by Ross den OtterThe story itself, based on Elizabeth Spencer's novella of the same name,  was sweet and romantic yet disturbing at the same time. It is 1953 and Americans Margaret Johnson (Katey Wright) and her  beautiful, youthful daughter Clara (Samantha Hill) are touring Tuscany. They are walking in a piazza in Florence when a gust of wind lifts Clara's hat, and deposits it at the feet of a handsome young Italian, Fabrizio Naccarelli (Adrian Marchuk). He returns it to her and an instant mutual attraction is kindled.

Margaret's instinctive reaction to try to keep them apart seems more excessive than a normal maternal reaction, and we gradually find out why. Clara, thanks to a trauma at the age of 12,  is an "exceptional" young woman and Margaret's obsessive focus is to protect her from relationships where she may get hurt.

 David Adams, Samantha Hill, Katey Wright and Adrian Marchuk. Photo by David Cooper.Fabrizio meanwhile involves the whole Naccarelli clan, his father (David Adams), brother Guiseppe (Daren Herbert) and his feisty wife, Franca (Dana Luccock) and later his mother (Heather Pawsey), in his efforts to woo Clara. Meanwhile Margaret's own relationship with her husband Roy (Timothy E. Brummond) who obviously dominates both her and Clara, warrants her re-evaluation. Happily, by the end, both Clara and her mother find a sort of liberation.

Hill and Marchuk make a beautiful couple. He is charming with a delightful tenor while her "Light in the Piazza" almost had me in tears. Her sudden vulnerability when she was lost in the streets of Florence was also heartbreaking.

Wright was perfect: a loving mother, anxious, fussy, and bossy, yet able to understand that her daughter was capable of loving deeply, and deserving of being loved.  Each of the other members of the Naccarelli clan were also terrific. In particular David Adams was a suave and sexy signor, the kind of older Italian man who you hope would be around to return your hat should it inadvertently blow away in a Florentine piazza. At least if you were no longer 26! or even 46!

It's a good production. If you have ever wandered through the piazzas of Italy dreaming of happiness and romance, you will love it. Just wish I could remember any of the songs.

For tickets:   Buy online  They range from 25 to 39 dollars.

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