— Katey Wright as Margaret Johnson; Samantha Hill as Clara Johnson. Photo: Pink Monkey Studios
—— King Richard (Bob Frazer) in RICHARD III, 2011 [photo: David Cooper]
THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA
Patrick Street Productions’ Vancouver premiere of Tony Award winning musical The Light in the Piazza is triumphant in many ways.
On Lance Cardinal’s beautiful set of mobile Florentine picture frames, director Peter Jorgenson has assembled a cast of strong actors with gorgeous voices who make the substantial amounts of Italian dialogue and lyrics sound utterly authentic.
As young lovers Clara (the American visitor) and Fabrizio (the Florentine), Samantha Hill and Adrian Marchuk are wonderful. Katey Wright, as Clara’s protective mother Mary, anchors the show with a nuanced and very funny performance. The actor/singers who play Fabrizio’s Italian family—David Adams, Heather Pawsey, Daren Herbert and Dana Luccock—are terrific.
So why did this show leave me so cold?
It’s a matter of taste. The Light in the Piazza relies on a musical-theatre formula that’s far from my favourite: operatic singing and a symphonic score. The show’s five-piece orchestra features four string instruments, including harp. Adam Guettel’s music has been compared to Sondheim’s in its complexity, but the formal score and operatic voices distanced me rather than pulling me further into the story.
And the story itself drove me a little crazy. Craig Lucas’ book establishes delicious character hooks and a gripping Romeo and Juliet-ish situation. But the plot takes some maddeningly unmotivated and unlikely twists and turns.
Set around 1960, the story follows Southerners Mary and Clara on their Italian holiday. Clara is a “special child,” Mary explains, developmentally damaged. Hill plays 26-year-old Clara’s handicap with great subtlety, acting and looking a lot younger than Clara’s age. Mary and unsympathetic oil exec husband Roy (Timothy E. Brummond), whom we meet via long-distance phone calls, are very protective of their fragile child, especially after Clara and Fabrizio fall in love.
The young lovers are utterly charming, manic Fabrizio frustrated in his courtship by his broken English: “Now is I am happiness with you.” Marchuk nicely avoids stage-Italian self-parody in his Fabrizio, and both actors sing exquisitely.
Though uneasy with her daughter’s relationship, Mary remains sympathetic. Fabrizio’s family take Clara to their hearts and, despite their foibles, are basically good folks.
Is this tragedy or romantic comedy? Is this love doomed by circumstance or fated somehow to succeed and break the mould? After all, as a large number of songs repeatedly tells us, every marriage in the play has gone sour. We’ll see.
Lovely costumes by Jessica Dmytryshyn, Bradley Danyluk’s clear sound and Alan Brodie’s unobtrusive lighting round out the beautiful staging of a tale that may affect you more than it did me.