"The Light in the Piazza" (Theo Ubique): Shines Despite Murky Plot

"The Light in the Piazza" (Theo Ubique):  Shines Despite Murky Plot

#81.  I saw the pre-Broadway run of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA in 2004 at the Goodman Theatre.  I didn’t love it.  The  two lovers frequently broke into a love song that had ‘la-la-la-la-la-la-la‘ as the lyrics.  And it sounded suspiciously like “Miss Saigon’s” solo saxophone song.  But my real issue was with the love story.  It had an unpleasant the Americans-pull-one-over-on-the-Italians vibe.  So, I initially avoided Theo Ubique’s production.  And then this musical blockbuster of the Spring kept extending and extending under Theo Ubique’s innovation.  Knowing there had been some changes on the road to Broadway, I decided to give it another look…

Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA.  Clara and her mother Margaret are American tourists in Florence.  As they check out the local sights, a local checks out Clara.  Fabrizio is smitten!  He is captivated by Clara’s beauty and innocence.  Despite Margaret’s best attempts to separate them, Fabrizio starts courting Clara.  Even his family supports the loving effort.  When Fabrizio and Clara announce their engagement, a long distance phone call from Margaret’s husband directs his wife to shut the affair down. Are Clara’s parents just afraid of losing their little girl or is their little girl still a little girl?  THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA shines despite murky plot.

I still have an issue with the basic storyline.   SPOILER ALERT:  Clara had a traumatic brain injury at 12 and has not advanced intellectually from that age.  In other words, she is mentally disabled.  Mom doesn’t tell Fabrizio or his family.  The Italians accept the tantrums of a ‘12-year old’ Clara as traditional Italian drama.  The premise doesn’t seem enchanting to me.  It seems offensive to the bonds of matrimony and the country of Italy.

Suspending my sensitivity to the subject matter, I did enjoy the score much more under the musical direction of Jeremy Ramey.  We arrived 5 minutes to curtain and were seated in the very last two seats, far corner, back row, next to the band.  We could have turned pages…that’s how close we were. Not great seats and we struggled to see over audience and around structural poles.  (TIP:  Purchase the dinner package for best seating or arrive early to grab seats in front of the bar.)  The band also played during pieces of dialogue and because of our proximity we couldn’t hear the characters’ conversations.  But we could hear the mini orchestra and they were exquisite.  On piano, Ramey conducted and rounded out a sublime quartet; Janelle Jansen Lake (harp), Michael Sinclair (bass) and Caroline Yoshimoto (violin).  Composer Adam Guettel seemed to have enhanced the score with more robust lyrical melodies and content.  “Say It Somehow” aka ‘la-la-la-la-la-la-la’ song was less prominently featured.

Set Designer Adam Veness has flipped Theo Ubique’s usual stage and created a solid piazza in the former audience area.  The marveling thing about Theo Ubique is their ability to create large, musical spectacles within a very intimate space.  Under the direction of Fred Anzevino and Brenda Didier, this cast fills the house with poignant singing.  A stand-out is Kelli Harrington (Margaret).  Harrington commands the piazza with a gentle southern drawl and stunning vocal range.  An impressive Justin Adair (Fabrizio) passionately sings in English and Italian.  And a wonderfully dramatic Elizabeth Lanza (Franca) engages with a heart-felt solo in “The Joy You Feel.”  Dressed up an array of elegant sixties costumes (Designer Bill Morey), the entire cast harmonizes and squabbles like a tight, loving family.

Theo Ubique is on a hot streak churning out sold-out, blockbuster musical hits. And there is a lot to enjoy about their current successful THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA …if you can just get past the basic premise.

A man disenchanted by the Italian stereotypes, Enrico Pallazzo describes it with ‘un po ‘meno.’

Running Time:  Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission

At the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood

Based on the novella by Elizabeth Spencer

Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel

Book by Craig Lucas

Musical direction by Jeremy Ramey

Directed by Fred Anzevino and Brenda Didier

Thursdays at 7:30pm (No shows May 3rd, 10th, June 7th, 14th, 21st)

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 7pm


Buy Tickets at www.theo-u.org


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