Light In The Piazza

Review by Polly Wittenberg

Book by: Craig Lucas
Music & lyrics by: Adam Guettel
Directed by: Bartlett Sher
Cast: Glenn Seven Allen, Michael Berresse, Sarah Uriarte Berry, David Bonanno, David Burnham, Victoria Clark, Patti Cohenour, Beau Gravitte, Laura Griffith, Mark Harelik, Prudence Wright Holmes, Jennifer Hughes, Felicity LaFortune, Catherine LaValle, Michel Moinot, Matthew Morrison, Kelli O'Hara, Joseph Siravo.
Synopsis: Tells the story of a mother and daughter traveling through Italy in the summer of 1953, and of the daughter's romance with a handsome, high-spirited Florentine, and the mother's determined efforts to keep the two apart.

Polly Wittenberg's Review.

Though you�d never know it from the loud, rock �em-sock �em musicals that have been Broadway staples in recent years, there�s another tradition in the history of the musical theater which is based on sweetness, gentleness and charm. An example of the latter genre that comes readily to mind is Bock and Harnick�s /She Loves Me/, a simple beautiful love story set in a Budapest perfumery.

Now, from the grandson of Richard Rodgers, composer and lyricist Adam Guettel, and writer Craig Lucas, we have a new and delightful addition to the catalog of romantic musicals, this time set in Florence. It is based on an Elisabeth Spencer novel of the same name that was last seen as a 1964 movie starring Olivia de Havilland and Yvette Mimieux as an American mother and retarded daughter on holiday and George Hamilton as the Italian hunk captivated by the daughter�s beauty.

From the first view of the piazza on the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater to the lyrical opening bars of the overture, you are transported into the simpler world of 1953 where crossing lines of propriety and language were big though soluble issues. It was all a matter of projecting good will and overcoming misunderstandings. That�s all that the slender plot of this show is about. It�s enough.

The score is beautiful but not old-fashioned. Each of the musical numbers flows organically from what�s going on at the time and there�s plenty of variety, with songs in both English and Italian and everything from airs to ballads to eight-part counterpoint to big dramatic climaxes.

I can�t say enough good things about the lovely set by Michael Yeargan, the handsome costumes by Catherine Zuber, and the mystical lighting by Christopher Akerlind except that they made me want to go and book a room overlooking the Arno immediately. Though it�s miked, the sound design by ACME Sound Partners is remarkably natural. And kudos for the precise and intelligent direction of Bartlett Sher. In a show where some characters speak only Italian, others speak only English and there are no supertitles, he easily manages to make everything clear.

There are no big names in the cast which includes Victoria Clark as the American mother, Kelli O�Hara, as the retarded girl, Matthew Morrison as her handsome pursuer, and Mark Harelik, Michael Berresse, Sarah Uriarte Berry and Patti Cohenour as the members of his family. They all act, sing and dance with grace and style. But Miss Clark, who has been around for quite a while, gives an exceptionally warm, subtle and powerful performance. She clearly deserves billing above the title.

Polly Wittenberg

What the critics had to say.....

BEN BRENTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says �Encouragingly ambitious and discouragingly unfulfilled new show.�
CLIVE BARNES of NEW YORK POST says "Interesting but ultimately disappointing musical."
HOWARD KISSEL of New York Daily News says "This score is lyrical, direct and, especially in its final moments, deeply moving."
LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "The show feels too grand for its ultimately icky little story."
MICHAEL FEINGOLD of THE VILLAGE VOICE says "As the music doesn't define either events or characters strongly, the overall effect is more nebulous than gripping."
JACQUES LE SOURD of JOURNAL NEWS says "It's wan and boring. Every time you want a real tune to move the story along, Guettel weighs in with a fragment of something small and vague, in a minor key."
MICHAEL KUCHWARA of Associated Press says "A show of considerable beauty � more melodically, emotionally and visually satisfying than any other musical this season."

External links to full reviews from newspapers:
New York Times
New York Post
New York Daily News
Village Voice
Journal News
Associated Press

Originally published on

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