REVIEW: The Light in the Piazza (Royal Festival Hall) ★★★★★
The Light in the Piazza is a musical written by Craig Lucas, with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel. Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, the musical was developed at the Intiman Playhouse in Seattle in 2003 and then at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2004 before opening on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Centre in 2005 where it won six Tony Awards at that year’s ceremony. After productions in Japan, Australia and Toronto, European audiences finally had the opportunity to see the show, when it premiered at the Curve Theatre, Leicester in 2009. Now London audiences can melt into Adam Guettel’s score as The Light in the Piazza opens at the Royal Festival Hall, in a specially-designed full theatre staging with the 34 piece symphony orchestra of Opera North.
When the show premiered on Broadway, it was surrounded with the pop music scores of Spamalot, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bell. Instead, The Light in the Piazza favoured Neoromantic classical music and opera with beautiful melodic structures and unexpected harmony shifts. Richly orchestrated, many of the lyrics are in Italian or broken English as the majority of characters only speak Italian. Set in Florence during the summer of 1953, The Light in the Piazza transports us to the world of Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara as they take in the wonders of Florence. A fateful gust of wind whisks Clara’s hat into the hands of local dreamer Fabrizio Naccarelli and its love at first sight. However, Clara isn’t quite what she appears and soon they must all confront a secret that’s been kept in the shadows for far too long.
Produced by Scenario Two Ltd, the Royal Festival Hall production features four-time Grammy winner and Tony nominee Renée Fleming as Margaret, film and television star Dove Cameron as Clara, three-time Olivier Award winner Alex Jennings as Signor Naccarelli, Marie McLaughlin as Signora Naccarelli, Liam Tamne as Giuseppe Nacarelli, Celinde Schoenmaker as Franca Nacarelli and West End favourite Rob Houchen as Fabrizio. As the Naccarelli’s, Alex Jennings, Marie McLaughlin, Liam Tamne and Celinde Schoenmaker are instantly recognisable as a family unit. Their ease with each other and dysfunctions evident in any family, as amplified in the script and I found each gave truthful and believable performances resulting in strong onstage playful relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed Schoenmaker’s Act One The Joy You Feel as she sings to Clara about her own marital woes and Mclaughlin’s hilarious Act Two turn speaking directly to the audience, “I don’t speak English, but I have to tell you what’s going on.”
As the youngest Nacarelli, Rob Houchen’s Fabrizio was a sensation. His beautiful tenor voice, soaring with perfect Italian as he sang Il Mondo Era Vuoto describing how his life was empty before Clara, his light in the piazza and in Act Two’s broken-English Love To Me as he reassures Clara he simply and unequivocally loves her, were both highlights of the show. Dove Cameron as Clara gave a delightful, note perfect vocal. Playing both Clara’s light and dark sides, Cameron gave a solid performance throughout and her sweet vocal in The Light In The Piazza was sublime. As Margaret, Renée Fleming shone. As the shows most fleshed out character, Margaret deals with her daughter growing up, being protective of her, her own marriage feeling hollow and flirtations with Signor Nacarelli and Fleming plays each with sincerity and grace. Often addressing the audience directly, Fleming switches between in-scene action and audience confessional with ease. Giving a magnificent vocal throughout, Fleming provides a masterclass in music theatre. Brava!
Another star of this production is Robert Jones’ simple but impressive design, really drawing the audience effectively into the romance and elegance of Florence. Playing Adam Guettel’s stunning score and visible throughout the show, The Orchestra of Opera North is conducted by Kimberley Grigsby with finesse.
The Light in the Piazza is a touching love story. With a star cast providing excellent performances, a beautifully detailed staging and Adam Guettel’s unapologetically lyrical and romantic score, audiences will feel transported from dreary rainy London to a sun-drenched Italy, bursting with elegance, style of sophistication.
Reviewed by Stuart James
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA