The Light in the Piazza sparkles like the Hope Diamond. With its soaring romantic score by 2006 Tony Award winner Adam Guettel and its stirring book by Craig Lucas, based on the 1960 novella by Chapel Hill, NC writer Elizabeth Spencer, whom Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker honored on stage Tuesday night, this absolutely gorgeous NETworks Presentations’ production, which continues tonight through Sunday in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as part of the Broadway Series South series, showcases the theatrical genius of director Bartlett Sher, scenic designer Michael Yeargan, lighting designer Christopher Akerlind, costume designer Catherine Zuber in a musical travelogue to 1953 Florence and Rome, Italy, that is truly worth writing home about. (All but Sher took home 2006 Tonys.)
The first national tour of The Light in the Piazza also features musical staging by Jonathan Butterell, music direction by Kimberly Grigsby, and sound by ACME Sound Partners. But it is the magnificent cast and the outstanding orchestra, conducted with brio by musical director Kimberly Grigbsy, that thrilled Tuesday’s opening-night audience down to the marrow. It is little wonder that the production as a whole and the show’s three stars—Christine Andreas as Winston-Salem matron Margaret Johnson, Elena Shaddow as Johnson’s 26-year-old daughter Clara, and David Burnham as Clara’s 20-year-old Italian suitor Fabrizio Naccarelli—and one supporting player—Laura Griffith as Fabrizio’s fiery-tempered sister-in-law Franca Naccarelli—recently received five nominations for Washington DC’s Helen Hayes Awards. (Wendi Bergamini plays the temperamental Franca in the current production.)
Tuesday night, Christine Andreas gave a tour-de-force performance as Margaret. The dramatics of the role are daunting, and the vocal demands—which range from operatic to something quite like the boulevard ballads of the late great Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel—require a virtuoso singer. That Andreas is. She also gives a passionate dramatic performance as an overly protective mother, terrified about what will happen when her brain-damaged daughter Clara falls in love with a foreigner who does not realize that Clara has the mind (and temperament) of a child.
Elena Shaddow as Clara and David Burnham as Fabrizio likewise master the verbal pyrotechnics of Guettel’s demanding score while creating compelling characterizations of young lovers trying to surmount their differences in nationality, language, family background, and temperament. Shaddow, who played Eliza Doolittle in North Carolina Theatre’s 2004 production of My Fair Lady and Hodel in NCT’s 2005 presentation of Fiddler on the Roof, starring Paul Sorvino, is lovely in face and form; and David Burnham, who is making his Raleigh debut, is the epitome of a heartthrob—tall, dark, and handsome—with an astonishing vocal range.
The Light in the Piazza also serves as a showcase for the considerable acting and singing talents of John Procaccino, who plays Clara’s crusty father Roy; David Ledingham, who cuts a fine, elegantly tailored figure as Fabrizio’s father Signor Naccarelli; Evangelia Kingsley, who momentarily abandons her customary Italian to speak directly to the audience—in English; Jonathan Hammond, who plays Fabrizio’s ne’er-do-well womanizing brother Giuseppe, with a shrug and a wink that are perfect for the role; and Wendi Bergamini, who transforms her brief but memorable appearances as a license to steal—scenes, that is.
The term must-see musical is probably overworked—even in these pages—but The Light in the Piazza is such a modern masterpiece of musical theater (and winner of six 2006 Tony Awards) that it really should not be missed by the discriminating theatergoer. Tuesday, the first-nighters gave the show a standing ovation that went on and on.
Broadway Series South presents The Light in the Piazza Tuesday-Friday, Feb. 13-16, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 17, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 18, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $27.50-$69. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565, email@example.com. Note: Arts Access, Inc. will audio describe the 8 p.m. Feb. 17th performance. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/ [inactive 9/09]. Broadway Show: http://www.lct.org/calendar/event_detail.cfm?ID_event=34551107 [inactive 3/08]. The Tour: http://www.piazzaontour.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=390705. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056183/. Elizabeth Spencer: http://www.elizabethspencerwriter.com/ [inactive 11/10]. The Light in the Piazza (book): http://www.elizabethspencerwriter.com/works/thelightinthepiazza.htm [inactive 11/10]. Christine Andreas: http://www.christineandreas.com/. Elena Shaddow: http://www.elenashaddow.com/. David Burnham: http://www.DavidBurnham.com/.