BWW Reviews: South Coast Rep Stages Lovely OC Production of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA

Ah, destino.

Sometimes, there's just no fighting what the universe has in store, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart.

Yes, destiny---and the surprises that tag along with it---is exactly the troubling test that ignites some trepidation and nervousness from one of musical theater's most protective moms (though, perhaps, not in quite the same league as Gypsy's mama, of course). So what happens when happenstance intervenes, throwing plans, dreams, and expectations out the window, thereby forcing an overprotective mother to learn to let go?

Truly one of the most elegant, though underrated musicals of the new century, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA---now on stage in a lovely new production at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa through February 23---follows the uneasy journey that a loving, though over-hovering mother must embark on when her daughter discovers the wonderfully vulnerable world of adult love.

Nearly a decade after its original Broadway debut at Lincoln Center, director Kent Nicholson has conjured up a newfound vibrancy for SCR's admirable local production. Here, he deftly helms a revival that reveals more beguiling humor and heartbreaking sorrow out of Craig Lucas' book and Adam Guettel's music and lyrics to go along with its beautiful displays of statues and still life (both literally and figuratively).

It's not a stretch to say that this Tony Award-winning musical certainly has its fans (myself included), yet, understandably, it hasn't exactly elicited the kind of rabid fandom other shows that were birthed in the same era have garnered. That's really too bad---because what THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA lacks in bells and whistles and dizzying effects, it makes up for in its sweeping, lush score and its simple, yet heartwarmingly relatable story about a mother and daughter and the handsome stranger that enters their life.

Set in the summer of 1953, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA---based on the novella by Elizabeth Spencer---introduces us to Margaret Johnson (played with quiet ferocity by Patti Cohenour) a wealthy American Southerner on vacation with her beautiful daughter Clara (the exquisite Erin Mackey) in the gorgeous surroundings of Florence, Italy (which Clara, unencumbered by pesky filters, refers to as the "land of naked marble boys"). With one eye on her trusty guidebook and the other on her dreamy-eyed daughter, Margaret is adamant about making the trip both an educational and trouble-free escape---an appealing distraction for the pair.

But from the get-go, signs point to the fact that Margaret has devised a force-field around Clara. It seems strange at first; why would this mom be so ultra-protective of her grown-up daughter? As it turns out, she has her reasons: you see, Clara---as Margaret herself explains via several direct-to-the-audience asides---is quite "special." Many years before, at a very young age, Clara was involved in an unfortunate accident that caused some irreparable brain damage. The trauma has left Clara with a child-like innocence---and the irrational behavior and immature mentality that comes with it.

As apparently difficult as it already is for Margaret to keep watch over her fragile daughter, along comes a young hunk of man to introduce some extra complications. Like a stroke of kismet, Clara---while exploring one of Florence's beautiful piazzas with her mom---loses her hat during a gust of wind. Luckily (or is it?), a handsome young Italian local named Fabrizio (the dashing David Burnham) has been admiring the young lady from afar and, like a lovestruck hero, swoops in and rescues Clara's chapeau and hands it back to her safely. And just like that, they lock eyes and both fall instantly in love.

Understandably, Margaret isn't too thrilled about these new circumstances. Thus, her dilemma: does she continue protecting her daughter from the harshness of the world, thereby shattering Clara's feeble heart in the process, or should she finally just let Clara go so that her own daughter can feel the glorious possibilities of love for herself?

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Michael L. Quintos Michael Lawrence Quintos is a quiet, mild-mannered Art Director by day. But as night falls, he regularly performs on various stages everywhere as a Counter-Tenor soloist, actor, and dancer for The Men Alive Chorus since 2002. He's sung everything from Broadway, Jazz, R&B, Classical, Gospel and Pop. His musical theater roots started early, performing in various school musical productions and a couple of nationally-televised programs. The performing bug eventually brought him a brief championship run in the Philippines' version of "Star Search" before moving to Las Vegas at age 11. College brought him out to Orange County, California, where he earned a BFA in Graphic Design and a BA in Film Screenwriting. He has spent several years as a designer and art director for various entertainment company clients, while spending his free time watching or performing in shows.

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