The fact that it appeared at all in the high-stakes gambling den that is contemporary Broadway was astonishing enough, but what's truly incredible is that it survived over 500 performances in that pressure cooker and garnered a raft of awards in the process.
The current production by R-S Theatrics, which runs through Sunday (August 26, 2018), is a bit of a miracle as well. Beautifully sung, impeccably acted, and smartly directed by company founder Christina Rios, it's well worth your attention in these waning days of summer.
The Light in the Piazza is the story of Margaret Johnson (Kay Love), an upper crust South Carolina matron traveling in Italy in 1953 with her daughter Clara (Macia Noorman). As they're admiring the naked statues in Firenze (Florence to us Anglophones), Clara's straw hat is blown off by a fateful gust of wind and retrieved by Fabrizio Naccarelli (Tiélere Cheatem), a young apprentice in the tie shop of his father (Kent Coffel).
Fabrizio and Clara are instantly smitten with each other, but there are obstacles. Clara may be 26, but a riding accident as a child has left her with the emotional maturity of someone half her age. Trying to protect her daughter, Margaret does her best to keep the lovers apart. When that inevitably fails, Margaret has to come to terms with the flowering of her daughter's identity, the withering of her own marriage, and the future they all must face.
The cast is a remarkable one, with generally very strong voices and impeccable acting skills. Much of the show rests on Ms. Love's well-tailored shoulders, and she carries it brilliantly. Ms. Noorman conveys Clara's impetuous vulnerability clearly, Mr. Cheatem is credibly consumed by passion, and Mr. Coffel's parental bluster is endearing. There's fine work here also by Michael Lowe and Stephanie Merritt as the feuding couple Giuseppe and Franca Naccarelli and Jodi Stockton as Signora Naccarelli, along with a versatile ensemble.
The book, by noted playwright Craig Lucas, handles this tale of “love among the ruins” with great warmth and, when appropriate, good humor. The characters are beautifully drawn and their relationships crystal clear, even when a scene or an entire song is in Italian.
The score, by third-generation theatre composer Adam Guettel, is lavish and romantic without being saccharine. The musically sophisticated songs are so well integrated with the book that that the show feels, in retrospect, like one continuous aria, some of which just happens to be spoken rather than sung. Originally scored for strings and harp with a dash of woodwinds, it's performed here by a quartet of violin (Kelly La Russa), cello (Emily Lane), bass (Jacob Stergos), and harp (Terri Langerak), with results that are musically luminous.
I first saw this beautiful and subtle show when the Broadway tour played the Fox in 2007. At the time, it was somewhat dwarfed by the Fox's mammoth stage, but in the modest confines of The Marcelle Theater it looks right at home. J. Keller Ryan's simple set and Michael Young's projections set the tone perfectly and neatly capture the Florentine setting.
Intelligent entertainment like this deserves our support. Go see it.