BWW Reviews: Mad Cow's THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA
A welcome break from all the holiday shows and holiday parties is THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. It is a simple love story of guy meets girl, except she's American and they're all in Italy. Add some amazing vocalists to sing the luscious score of Adam Guettel and Mad Cow's THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is everything this piece should be.
Based on a novel by ElizaBeth Spencer, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is a comedic love story turned into a musical in 2005 with the book adaptation by Craig Lucas. In the story, Mrs. Margaret Johnson brings her daughter Clara to Italy where a gust of wind leads to a love at first sight encounter with Fabrizio Naccarelli. Clara has developmental issues and acts immature for her age, but despite this she also falls in love. Margaret is naturally very reluctant to let Clara hang out with his boy (what parent wouldn't?). She battles her maternal instinct to protect Clara, but also her wish to see Clara happy. The idea that Clara could have a normal life after her brain injury is a tempting thought for Margaret, especially since the Naccarelli's do not seem to notice her different behavior. Persistence pays off for Fabrizio, who also gets his entire family involved with a plot to be with Clara. There is the hijinx of a language barrier, the lovely scenes of Florence, and a lot of emotions to round out the love story.
Laura Hodos as Margaret Johnson is a true star living amongst us in Orlando. As Johnson, Hodos demonstrates her emotional range, comedic ability, and amazing vocals. She fights, as any mother would to protect her daughter, but even as life throws curves she shows her resolve. There is strength in her character when she faces her husband and their mid-life falling out. There is gentleness when she interacts with Clara. There are some great solos for Margaret in act two that just rip at the heart strings, which Hodos knocks out of the park: "The Beauty Is (Reprise)" and "Fable."
Margaret and Clara stick out as Americans in the elegant bustle of Florence, but both adapt pretty well to the language and culture. Jennafer Newberry captures the innocence of Clara Johnson with her sweet face and silvery voice. Newberry is also able to show Clara's disability in a tasteful manner that leaves the audience rooting for her happy ending. Her on-stage lover, played by Robert Johnston, has an typical boy-band look and sound, but a convincing Italian accent. You can practically see the hearts covering his eyes in "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" and "Love to Me."
The Italian lyrics seemed no challenge for the Naccarelli family, but can easily lose English-speaking audiences. Thank goodness for the over-acting of the Italian-speaking cast because the audience would get lost in the dialogue otherwise. Do not let the foreign language dissuade you from seeing this show as it is well-done. There are breaks in the narrative that allow Margaret then Mrs. Naccarelli to tell what is happening during a scene.
Different from the detailed Italian set of Mad Cow's ENCHANTED APRIL, just a few colonnades frame the set of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. Yet, despite the lack of embellishments, the feeling of Italy is apparent. The set and lit backdrop, perfectly set the scene for the well-choreographed staging. Italy known for its art and this production brilliantly uses frames held by actors as set pieces and living art. The piano, cellist, and violinist are on-stage, but blend into the background. Kudos to Robin Jensen who is non-stop on the piano taking on Guettel's challenging score for the entire show.
If you're looking for a break from the holidays, but still want the warm feelings of a love story, then this show is not to be missed. Directed by Aradhana Tiwari and under the musical direction of Robin Jensen, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA runs at Mad Cow until January 5th. For tickets and more information visit www.madcowtheatre.com.