The International Writers Magazine

Broadway goes Full Circle
Ben Macpherson on The Light in the Piazza'

Avenue Q, Wicked, ‘Spelling Bee and The Light In The Piazza'. Four new musicals to have graced the boards on the Great White Way of late. Post 9/11 it seems that the escapist value of the musical is returning, as seen in recent hit West End imports such as The Producers, and political solemnity in shows such as Assassins is ‘so last season’. What’s more, The Light In The Piazza heralds a return to roots for Broadway musical culture.

Current Cast:
Michael Berresse Actor
Sarah Uriarte Berry Actor
Victoria Clark Actor
Patti Cohenour Actor
Beau Gravitte Actor
Mark Harelik Actor
Matthew Morrison Actor
Kelli O'Hara Actor

Produced by Lincoln Center Theater under André Bishop and Bernard Gersten the show is a nominal renaissance of the tradition seen in the musicals of Lerner & Lowe and Rodgers and Hammerstein. More than that, it has a direct link to the latter of these partnerships. With Book by Craig Lucas, based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer, is has a score by Adam Guettel, none other than Richard Rodgers’ grandson.

With such strong roots in the culture of Broadway’s Golden Era, it is no wonder that the tantalising score to this musical rings with tinges of ‘grandpa’, and also Guettel’s mentor, the inimitable genius Stephen Sondheim.

The story itself hasn’t been out of print since 1960 and for those who aren’t familiar with Elizabeth Spenser, David Garnet or Henry James show us the way.
It concerns an American girl, Clara (Kelli O'Hara) who falls for an Italian (Matthew Morrison) whilst travelling through Firenze. Without summarising the entire narrative, the obvious complications (and some not so) give this musical its dramatic tension. This would be an appropriate juncture to admit not having actually seen the show, but having read many a review and talked to people who have seen the show, and owning the cast recording (on Nonesuch Records Inc.) I am enthused.

One thing seems perfectly clear. This show has no dramatic high-point; nor need for any. Its story is its drama - a simple notion complicated so much in the last few years by politically driven or socially aware plot lines.

The score and performance bristle with rich evocative emotion; a musical which sits firmly between South Pacific and The King and I on one hand, and Aspects of Love and Passion on the other. Fresh and sophisticated, with parts of the lyrics being sung only in Italian, it verges on modern operetta, without the pretension of scores such as Les Miserables or The Woman in White. It is a good, solid story of love, and love alone. There are seemingly no hidden agendas - just passion and emotion. When Clara’s first solo ‘The Beauty Is’ begins, one cannot help but think of a Dave Brubeck piano arrangement being crossed with orchestral Sondheim. The rhythmic piano is reminiscent of ‘Another Hundred People’ from Sondheim’s show Company, but the lyrical sentiments are neither as cynical, critical or complex. Clara, played by the amazing Kelli O’Hara begins by simply observing marble statues in the Piazza. "These are very popular in Italy/ It’s the land of naked marble boys/ Something we don’t see a lot in Winston-Salem". Good characterisation, plain but suitably poetic lyrics and mature storytelling combine to make a superb cast recording: a recording which leaves me wondering what this show would be like to watch.

In an age when puppets dance in Avenue Q, overweight pole dancers long for their ‘big-break’ in Jerry Springer -The Opera, and it’s joyously ‘Springtime For Hitler’ in The Producers; the last lines of Piazza sing a beautifully fresh but delightfully familiar Broadway tune "Love if you can and be loved/ May it last forever Clara/ The Light in the Piazza". Could this new musical be the light of Broadway coming full circle? Grandpa would have been so proud.

The Light In The Piazza is currently playing at the Vivian Beaumont Theater
Playing to January 1, 2006
Running Time: 2hrs 15mins
Playing Schedule: Tues - Sat 8PM, Wed and Sat 2PM, Sun 3PM
Vivian Beaumont Theater 150 West 65th Street New York, NY 10023
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250
Price $65.00-$90.00 - check for discounts
Tuesday 8:00pm / Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm / Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8:00pm / Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm / Sunday 3:00pm Running Time: 2 hr. 30 min. (includes 1 intermission)


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