The Light in the Piazza: Musical. Book by Craig Lucas, Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel. Directed by Stewart Lyle. Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High Street, Alameda, CA.
You can feel the charming, romantic wonderment of the developmentally challenged Clara and the handsome and naïve Fabrizio in this wonderfully staged adaptation of this Tony Award -winning Broadway hit. Director Stewart Lyle re-imagines the romantic entanglements with the aid of his smart scenic design, accurate period costuming by Sharon Bell, and an exemplary ensemble cast.
Set in Florence in the summer of 1953, we’re swept up in vacationing mother and daughter’s delight in the beauty of Italy (“The Beauty Is”). Usually sumptuously staged with architectural detail and classic art, David has chosen to minimalize the stage with empty frames and outlined statue forms and sparse movable furniture. The result is a concentration on the actors and their motivations and it works successfully.
What could have been a light fairytale romance is elevated by a neoclassical, almost operatic score, the extensive use of Italian dialogue, and the emotional turmoil epitomized by Clara’s mother Margaret. Madison Genovese plays the childlike Clara with true surprise at her newfound feelings for Fabrizio. Kyle Stoner’s Fabrizio is charming as he struggles to communicate his feelings for Clara, and both have beautiful voices that merge and become one voice (“Say it Somehow”). With her beautiful soprano, Genovese unloads all her pent up feelings for Fabrizio in “The Light in the Piazza”, and the battle lines are drawn.
The focus of the play is Donna Turner as Clara’s protective mother Margaret Johnson, who’s torn between her own experiences of a loveless marriage (“Dividing Day”) and her fear and hope’s for her daughter. Turner is excellent throughout, moving through her emotions and finally resolving to allow Clara her chance for happiness (“The Beauty Is [Reprise]”. When Clara overhears her mother talking about her “handicap”, she believes she has no right to marry, but Fabrizio, who can only see their love, alleviates her fears in the tender ballad “Love To Me”.
Laura Domingo as the wounded Franca, Avi Jacobson and Maggie Tenenbaum as Fabrizio’s parent’s Signor and Signora Naccarelli all elevate their roles substantially. Altarena Playhouse’s The Light in The Piazza is a hit. It is a simple fairytale of sorts, but one with substance and emotional heft. Kudos to Director Lyle, his crew and cast.
Performances are May 6th thru June 12th. www.altarena.org 510-523-1553.