Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Stars Shine in the Florentine Night: Renée Fleming and Others Add Sparkle to Lyric's 'Light in the Piazza' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Light in the Piazza
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Thru December 29

In early 2004, I saw a pre-Broadway tryout run of The Light in the Piazza at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

Though the musical adaptation of a 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer that became a 1962 movie had premiered in Seattle in 2003, it was a rare Broadway bound musical to run in the Windy City without being under the auspices of Broadway in Chicago.

But although Broadway stars such as Victoria Clark--she would win a Tony Award after the show hit NYC--Kelly O'Hara and Celia Keenan-Bolger well-delivered Adam Guettel's delicate score, I didn't love the work. (I wasn't writing reviews back then.)

While I relished the Italian setting in Florence and Rome, which I had visited about 15 months prior, I found the show more passable then sensational.

And I saw it twice to be sure. (In part because the first time was interrupted by an audience member's medical emergency.)

I recall critics, both in Chicago and then regarding the Broadway run, raving about the score by
Guettel, who happens to be the grandson of the legendary composer, Richard Rodgers.

But while a lot of Guettel's music is quite lovely--he also wrote the lyrics--too many of the songs seemed instantly forgettable.

The show wasn't a smash hit on Broadway, but had a solid 500+ performance run, so I was eager to re-investigate upon noting a production at the wonderful Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Starring the remarkable Renee Fleming, no less.

And while I still wouldn't rank it among my favorite musicals, once again found that most tunes didn't really stick with me and would've liked Fleming's character to allow for her to sing a bit more, there were enough ravishing elements to make the affair delectably entertaining.

In the guise of Margaret Johnson, a wealthy wife from the 1950s American South who takes her daughter Clara to Italy for a summer, Fleming sounds exquisite on songs like "Statues and Stories," "Dividing Day" and "Fable."

And just her overall being is effervescent, even as Margaret is often vexed by how to do best by Clara (Solea Pfeiffer, who is terrific, including in delivering the title tune), a beautiful young woman whose mental maturity was stunted by an accident at age 12.

Clara, who really doesn't seem simple or slow until it's pointed out, is beguiled by Fabrizio (Rob Houchen, whose voice is superb), a local who is equally smitten by her.

With Clara and Fabrizio quickly falling head over heels, abetted by a couple well-rendered Italian songs--the Lyric would be wise to employ supertitles as it does for operas and even some English-language musicals--Margaret feels compelled to put her foot down, for fear of Clara's impairment being discovered by Fabrizio's family, led by his dad (well-played by Alex Jennings of TV's The Crown and much decorated British stage work).

Phone calls between Margaret and her overbearing, under-caring wealthy husband Roy (Malcolm Sinclair) go about as well as one might expect.

I won't reveal more about what unfolds, other than to mention that Fabrizio's brother Giuseppe (Alex Sciotto), sister-in-law Franca (Suzanne Kantorski) and mother (Marie McLaughlin) get a fair amount of stage time and are well-embodied, with Sciotto being especially fun.

Robert Jones' set design is impressive, though ideally it would've been a bit more malleable. Nothing distinguishes Florence from Rome save a statue being rotated.

And with Pfeiffer, Fleming and all the women wearing some really great dresses, the costuming by Brigitte Reiffenstuel certainly abets the quality of this rendition.

There are times when things get a tad dull, and though I listened to the Broadway Cast Recording in advance of Saturday's performance, I'm not inspired to put it on again anytime soon.

But The Light in the Piazza has enough going for it--including a narrative resolution I liked but won't divulge--that with an incandescent cast at the Civic Opera House, much more than not it's quite a de-Light.

1 comment:

Hemingway1955 said...

This type of story has now become dated, i.e. 1962 and apparently hasn't stood the test of time. Wonder how popular "South Pacific" would be today?