“The Light in the Piazza” at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Rohnert Park CA
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Photos by Eric Chazankin
A Glorious “Light” at Spreckels
There is a gorgeous valentine to hope and dreams called “The Light in the Piazza” being presented by Spreckels Theatre Company. It’s a show of mystical beauty, with richly textured music and lyrics by Adam Guettel and book by Craig Lucas. Unlike most modern musicals, “Light” features neo-classical, impressionistic music rather than the more traditional pop tunes. The small, superb orchestra at Spreckels, almost like a chamber music ensemble, gives the show an aura of intimacy and romance. Skillfully choreographed ballet sequences are sprinkled throughout the show, a graceful addition to the storytelling.
Based upon the 1962 (non-musical) film of the same name, which in turn was based on Elizabeth Spencer’s 1960 novel, the musical version of “The Light in the Piazza” opened on Broadway in 2005 and won six Tony Awards. The setting is Florence in the late 1950s. Margaret (Eileen Morris), a well-to-do matron from the American south, and her lovely twenty-something daughter Clara (Jennifer Mitchell) are on vacation. Italy is a long way from North Carolina, and part of the story’s dramatic interest arises from the clash of cultures. But what at first seems like over-protectiveness by Margaret, and youthful naiveté on Clara’s part, is revealed to be something much more serious. Clara meets and falls in love with young Fabrizio (Jacob Bronson), and he with her, and this sets in motion a series of beautiful and distressing events. The story advances slowly and seductively, like a rose blooming in the sun.
A lovely pas-de-deux ballet sequence opens the show, the gentle beginning of a gentle story. Mitchell is absolutely mesmerizing as Clara, and reveals a sweetly operatic voice that is sheer perfection. Bronson delivers a strong yet tender Fabrizio with an effortlessly rich, clear-as-a-bell tenor that’s goosebump-inducing. Morris gives an emotional honesty and vulnerability to her Margaret, made all the better by her lovely singing voice. Other cast members are like a flock of colorful birds singing in a tapestry of music that is a delight to the ears. Steven Kent Barker as Fabrizio’s father, Tariq Malik as brother Giuseppe and Amy Marie Webber as Giuseppe’s wife Franca are especially notable. A number in the second act is a tour-de-force collaboration of performers, director, musicians and choreographer.
Under Gene Abravaya’s sensitive and visionary direction, the ensemble cast gives a world-class performance. He makes great use of the Paradyne System of projected images, lending a soft and atmospheric background that enhances without distracting. Splendid musical direction by Diego Garcia, flawless choreography by Michella Snyder and great period costumes by Pamela Enz all combine to create one of the best shows in the North Bay in recent memory. This is what musical theatre is all about.
When: Now through October 25, 2015
8:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $16 to $26
Location: Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park CA