The Light in the Piazza
- Book by Craig Lucas
- Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
- Music by Milton Schafer
- Directed by Bartlett Sher
- Produced by Steven Epstein and Robert Hurwitz
- Orchestrations by Ted Sperling and Adam Guettel with Bruce Coughlin
- Music direction by Ted Sperling
- Musical staging by Jonathan Butterell
- The original opened 3/17/05 and is still running.
Signor Naccarelli Patti Cohenour Signora Naccarelli
Sarah Uriarte Berry
* = not represented on the CD
Well, I'm not sure, since the booklet doesn't have a plot summary, so I can just regurgitate the general information I know from reading other articles:
A weathly American woman (Margaret Johnson) and her "childlike" adult daughter are vacationing in postwar Italy. Clara meets Fabrizio Naccarelli immediately and they are smitten with one another, despite the fact that he can barely speak English. Margaret is determined to protect Clara because she is mildly brain-damaged from a childhood incident; how will Fabrizio and his family react when they learn the truth?
(OK, I did find a synopsis from Nonesuch on their website. Dunno why this couldn't appear in the booklet. Anyway, there isn't a whole lot more of substance than what I wrote up there.)
- Statues and Stories (Margaret, Clara, company)
- The Beauty Is (Clara)
- Il Mondo Era Vuoto (Fabrizio, Signor)
- American Dancing
- Passeggiata (Fab, Clara, Marg, Sig)
- The Joy You Feel (Franca)
- Dividing Day (Marg)
- Hysteria (Clara, Fab, Marg)
- Say It Somehow (Clara, Fab)
- Aiutami (Fab, Guiseppe, Sig, Franca, Signora)
- The Light in the Piazza (Clara)
- Octet (Priest, Clara, Signora, Sig, Franca, Fab, Marg, Giu, company)
- The Beauty Is (Reprise) (Marg)
- Let's Walk (Sig, Marg)
- Clara's Interlude (Clara)
- Love to Me (Fab)
- Fable (Marg)
Entries in red were winners.
- Best Musical
- Best Book of a Musical
- Best Original Score
- Best Actress
- Best Featured Actor (Matthew Morrison)
- Best Featured Actress (Kelli O'Hara)
- Best Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan)
- Best Costume Design (Catherine Zuber)
- Best Lighting Design (Christopher Akerlind)
- Best Direction
- Best Orchestrations
After having heard the disappointing 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the trivial Spamalot, and the just-plain-bad Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I found Piazza a welcome and rewarding listen, easily deserving of its Best Score Tony. Much of the music is gorgeous, complex, and interesting, showing the mentor's (Sondheim's) influence far more than the grandfather's (Rodgers). The orchestrations are lush and make the most of the relatively small orchestra--I haven't heard orchestrations this good in quite a while.
Of course the singing is beautiful. What a treat to hear Victoria Clark in a good role, as opposed to her unfortunate turn in Titanic! Boy, did she deserve this role! And Kelli O'Hara has definitively left her touring/replacement/flop roots behind (though I really liked her Susan in Sweet Smell of Success); she has a beautiful, clear, pure voice that I look forward to hearing in future productions. In this respect the recording serves her better than Clark; her Clara comes off as more of a character than does Margaret because she has more emotional songs. Matthew Morrison may not be the best pronouncer of the Italian language (I'm no expert, but I read that he isn't on a website I trust), but his Fabrizio comes off perfectly as a sweet, lovestruck, naive boy. The other actors and characters are competent, but they don't really get enough "air time" on the CD to stand out in any way, and the songs they sing convey little emotion.
Unfortunately, the thing that drags this musical down is the lyrics. They're competent at best, but often tend to be pedestrian; worse, they often don't seem to relate to the story, being generic to a startling degree. For example, after Clara has a tirade against Franca (apparently viewing her as a rival rather than as her new husband's sister), the company immediately begins to sing:
The shock of winter
The coming on of spring
That melting air
The sun gone red
An empty bed
A scent, a sound, a gesture triggering
I am suddenly alive
I am suddenly alone
Knowing I will be alone till I can be alone with you
That is what you do
You appear, you appear
(from "Octet," copyright 2005, Adam Guettel/Matthew Music)
Eh? This sounds like an attempt at poetry, not a lyric. (And it seems like Fabrizio should be singing it, not the company.) What does it have to do with Clara's tirade? The lyrics are like that throughout. Not to mention the songs and dialogue in Italian; one song in that language I can accept, but several, as well as dialogue? Plus Latin? Can you say "pretentious"? Guettel's lyrics were better in Floyd Collins; I'm not sure what happened here.
Because there is no readily available plot summary, it falls upon the lyrics to convey the story, and they are inadequate to this task. I have no idea what functions Franca, the Signora, or the Tour Guide have in the plot; geez, I'm not even sure if the two lovebirds even got married, and I have no idea what happened to them at the end: did they split up? Why did Margaret sing that "love's a fake"? If it's true, as I read somewhere on the Net, that Margaret's protection of Clara might be exacerbating her problems, nothing within the lyrics suggests this.
Another problem with the lyrics is that if Clara is supposed to be childlike/brain-damaged, she sure sings at an adult level. "I don't see a miracle/Shining from the sky"? Maybe the book made her less poetic. Anyway, enough with the complaints about the lyrics; I just hope that Guettel either gets more input from Sondheim on this topic or goes with a real lyricist for his next show.
The lack of a plot summary is a cardinal sin in the booklet, which is otherwise pretty decent: cast list, orchestra list, Acts I and II, a foreword by Frank Rich, lyrics, production list, funding credits, CD production credits, and pictures from the show inside both covers, with captions on the last page. The lyrics do cover some dialogue not on the CD, but as it is mostly in Italian, well....
Despite the annoying lyrical problems, this musical has much to recommend it, including what has to be the most iridescently beautiful music in a new musical in... oh, a number of years. This bodes pretty well for the future of Broadway, and it is a fitting Broadway debut for Guettel. I look forward to his future productions! Recommended, especially for fans who like their musicals with a classical or operatic flavor.
All non-lyric material copyright 2005, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
I invite other examples, or comments about the examples above. All submitted material will be properly credited and copyrighted to the submitters. Please see the submissions page for more information.
Or, if you're not in a mood to publish, just let me know your opinion of this page.
Return to Bursting with Song Return to Rational Magic current issue Go back to the Rational Magic home page