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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Light in the Piazza


Why canít we hope for once instead of dreading everything? — Margaret

Christine Andreas as Margaret in The Light in the Piaz
Christine Andreas as Margaret in The Light in the Piazza
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Composer/lyricist Adam Guettel had the sure instinct not to prettify the poignant delicate subject of The Light in the Piazza with melodies and tunes. Elizabeth Spencerís 1953 novel follows a mother, Margaret Johnson, who takes her daughter Clara to Italy. A beautiful young woman, Clara is retarded as the result of a childhood accident. Margaret is very protective but she canít protect her from falling in love with Fabrizio, a young Italian who is equally smitten.

Written in the post World War II years, the story is also on the cusp of a new era. Margaret believes her daughter might have a successful marriage with Fabrizio because his family still hold the pre-feminist views of a womanís place in the home. They are delighted with Claraís simplicity. S"o much of what we hear and read about American young women is not what we would consider to be the right kind of woman for our son," says Signor Naccarelli. Margaretís husband Roy back in the States disputes the ethics of the marriage. Itís a story that wouldnít hold water in most of todayís world with its evolving attitudes towards the equality of women. An excellent movie version was scripted in 1962 by Julius Epstein, author of Casablanca, starring Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi, a luminous Yvette Mimieux who played Clara with the purity of a Della Loggia Madonna and a miscast George Hamilton as Fabrizio.

Craig Lucas, who wrote the musicalís book, has wisely shifted the emphasis to Margaretís scrutiny of her daughterís blossoming in her first relationship and her gradual belief that her daughter can cope in this sheltered world where she will live with a big Italian family who loves her. Guettelís music reflects the strangeness of Claraís mind and sets some of his lyrics in Italian. One almost expects to hear opera but the voices are strictly musical theatre caliber.

Michael Yearganís sets embrace the towering marble pillars and statues that embody Italy and Christopher Akerlindís lighting is as mellow as a Tuscan afternoon. Catherine Zuberís costumes reflect the elegant femininity of the era, with full skirts for the girls and mid-calf pencil-thin suit skirts for the women. Director Bartlett Sher emphasizes the operatic nature of the musical and the passion and leisure that reflect Italian society in that era.

This Los Angeles production is well served by Christine Andreas whose mellow voice and determination capture the pivotal role of Margaret and Elena Shaddow whose delicate soprano colors the image of Clara as an image from a Renaissance painting. David Burnham brings a welcome coltish quality to Fabrizio and Laura Griffith is outstanding and simmering as his voluptuous sister-in-law Franca. Jonathan Hammond brings out the humor in Guiseppe, Fabrizioís brother, and David Ledingham lends a manipulative suppleness to Signor Naccarelli. Diane Sutherland contributes a dulcet voice to the thankless role of his Signora. Charming and unique, this musical is another step forward in the career being carved out by Adam Guettel.

For a song list, see CurtainUp editor Elyse Sommer's review of the play's debut production at Lincoln Center: TheLight in the Piazza/New York

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA
Music & Lyrics: Adam Guettel; Book: Craig LucasPlaywright: based on Elizabeth Spencerís novel
Director: Bartlett Sher
Musical Staging: Jonathan Butterell
Cast: .Christine Andreas (Margaret), Elena Shaddow (Clara), David Burnham (Fabrizio), David Ledingham (Signor Naccarelli), Jonathan Hammond (Guiseppe), Laura Griffith (Franca), Diane Sutherland (Signora Nacearelli), Brian Sutherland (Roy)
Set Design: Michael Yeargan
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Music Conductor: James Lowe
Running Time: Two hours, 20 minutes, one intermission
Running Dates: November 1-December 10, 2006.
Where:..Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, Reservations: (213) 680-4017.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on November 1.
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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