Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Light in the Piazza (Playhouse Square Center)

A dim ‘LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA’ at the Palace

A rather surprising thing happened at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square on the opening night of the touring production of ‘THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. During the curtain call following the show, no one stood up. Yes, it was Cleveland, Ohio, the home of the automatic standing ovation, and nary a soul jumped out of a seat!

‘THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA,’ Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel’s musical, based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer, tells the story of a mother ((Margaret) and daughter (Clara) traveling through Italy, the daughter's romance with a Florentine (Fabrizio), and the mother's determined efforts to keep the two apart.

Margaret is in a loveless marriage and has brought her daughter to Florence, home of art and beauty, to escape the mother’s reality and flashback to a happier time. Clara was kicked in the head as a child by an errant pony at a birthday party. Though she has the body of a woman, she has the emotions of a 10-year old. Fabrizio is a twenty-year old Italian who, in a chance meeting, falls in love with Clara. As happens in all good soap operas, true love wins out in the end.

The show garnered six 2005 Tony Awards. The score by Adam Guettel, who is the grandson of Richard Rogers of ‘SOUND OF MUSIC’ fame, has been praised for its ability to create the mood of falling in love and evoking strong emotional feelings.

So, with all these positives, why did the touring production receive luke-warm applause from the less than sold-out opening night audience?
•Maybe it was the fact that the play is an intimate experience, which was nurtured by the small New York theatre in which it was performed, while it was lost in the vastness of the Palace.
•Maybe it was because the role of Margaret was portrayed by Jane Brockman, an understudy who gave a stiff, one-dimensional veneer to the character and had only an acceptable singing voice.
•Maybe it was because the score, in spite of the superlatives that have been used to describe it, doesn’t have a single hummable or memorable song.
•Maybe it was because the soap-opera/melodramatic story line didn’t evoke the emotional response in the audience that it should have because the show is almost more operetta than musical theatre. In fact, this show may have given life to a new format in theatre, the soap operetta.
•Maybe because the show failed to live up to the image of the traditional musical. There is no dancing or show stopper in this vehicle, no message to carry from the theatre..

That is not to say there are not highlights in the production. Handsome David Burnham has a strong and well-trained operatic voice and develops a well-textured Fabrizio. And, as Clara, Elena Shadow is totally believable as the waif-like woman/child. She has a lovely singing voice. The duo are worth seeing.

The full orchestra was excellent. The sets and costumes quite acceptable.

Capsule judgment: Don’t Go To See ‘THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA’ with the expectation of being “blown away.” It is a pleasant diversion which never reaches the level of expectation of a six Tony Award winner.