Review Roundup: Renée Fleming and Dove Cameron in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA

Review Roundup: Renée Fleming and Dove Cameron in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA

The sumptuous and unforgettable romantic musical The Light in the Piazza makes its long-awaited London debut at the Royal Festival Hall, now through 5 July 2019.

Set in Florence during the summer of 1953, this breath-taking love story transports the audience into the world of Margaret Johnson (soprano superstar Renée Fleming) and her daughter Clara (Disney TV & Film star Dove Cameron) as they take in the wonders of this fabulously romantic City until a fateful gust of wind whisks Clara's hat into the hands of a handsome young local Fabrizio Naccarelli. It's love at first sight which leads to an emotional rollercoaster of joy, fear and family chaos.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Gary Naylor, BroadwayWorld: If you're thinking that Craig Lucas's book sounds like the plot of a TV movie you find on the Hallmark Channel at 2pm on a rainy Thursday, you're not far wrong. And we get plenty else one might find there too - beautiful 1950s Dior-ish frocks and accessories (super work from Brigitte Reiffenstuel), a Vespa for added Italianness, stereotypes so broad they might have given the director of the Cornetto ads pause... Maybe all that stuff is laid on thick because the venue is so unsympathetic to the storytelling, the vast Royal Festival Hall stretching back as far as the Tuscan hills as seen from the Duomo. The curious decision to use just one set - Robert Jones's excellent evocation of the crumbling Florentine walls - doesn't help either, the claustrophobic chaos of an Italian family argument at home dissipating as (visually) we're still in the Square.

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: The music and lyrics are by Adam Guettel. At their most wittily sophisticated they recall Stephen Sondheim, and the score contains richly sensuous moments, with a 40-piece orchestra doing justice to its lushness. But Daniel Evans's efficient production can't mask the flimsiness of the plot, and Craig Lucas's book doesn't quite know what to do with the moral quandaries it sets up. Although there are bursts of both pathos and sunny silliness, too often this is a self-consciously tasteful show.

Clive Davis, The Times: It's a sign that something is amiss when your attention strays so quickly from the music to the motor scooter puttering across the stage in the opening scenes in Florence. My inner pedant kept asking: "Is that really a 1950s machine?" A silly question, of course, but it hints at the problem with Adam Guettel's musical drama, a relentlessly ethereal hybrid that won so much acclaim when it opened in New York a decade and a half ago. Every note of the score - part musical, part chamber opera - is tastefully crafted and prompts a deft performance from the Orchestra of Opera North.

Alice Saville, TimeOut London: It's based on a popular American 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer. This 2008 musical updates it a bit but arguably not enough, especially in its approach to Clara's disability. Dove Cameron's performance as Clara has a hint of Disney princess to it, all cooing mannerisms and ditsy sweetness. Craig Lucas's book doesn't make much room for the more uncomfortable realities of her situation, in which her mother keeps her in the dark about her condition and shepherds her around like a child. Nor does it really dig into any of the questions raised by Clara's romance with young local Fabrizio, who also doesn't know her 'secret'. It's kind of loosely implied that things are different in Italy; the warmth of Fabrizio's expansive family will make everything right, will find a role for Clara that her US homeland can't.

Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph: One universal complaint about contemporary musicals is that while the spectacle they offer is awesome, their scores can't compare to those of classics such as Carousel or West Side Story. If you discount juke-box shows such as Mamma Mia!, this is demonstrably true. Adam Guettel has form in that his mother was Richard Rodgers's daughter, but don't let that ancestry fool you into thinking that he has inherited his grandpa's wonderful way with a waltz.

Tim Bano, The Stage: Fleming's still got it - her solos are sublime and her elegance palpable - but there's good stuff from Dove Cameron's Clara too. Her voice is clearly up to the tricky melodies, and she's a charming performer, even if a broad smile is about the beginning and the end of her expressiveness. Playing a character with learning difficulties, Cameron's performance is sensitive even when the production around her slips into pastiche. The standout performance, though, comes not from Fleming, Cameron or Jennings but Rob Houchen - his blow-away presence fills the piazza. He's adorably earnest as Fabrizio, a young romantic full of the first flush of love. And his voice is something else; whether it's a whisper or a belt, it hits every note of the unsettled score to perfection.

Matt Wolf, The Arts Desk: Margaret's revelatory numbers arrive one in each act and are put across with the expected technique coupled with genuine profondeur by Fleming, whose Broadwayalbum includes Piazza's climactic, rending "Fable". Lucas's book once again seems unsure just how much narration to give to Margaret, who on occasion steps out of proceedings so as to clue us in. But Fleming, as did the role's fabled originator Victoria Clark, rides such infelicities with surpassing grace, whether expressing concern over a daughter all but done in by the naked statuary on view on Robert Jones's curved set or setting her daughter's impetuousity of feeling against the absence of any such quality in her own life. Wedding bells may toll but even as one partnership is achieved, another must be severed: Margaret in awakening her soul realises that she is at the same time saying goodbye to her daughter.

Mark Shenton, London Theatre: And the luxury casting of Daniel Evans's London premiere of the show - in the players of both the cast and onstage orchestra - ensures that it is heard at its exquisite best. Renée Fleming, a superstar of the operatic world who last year crossed over to the Broadway stage in a revival of Carousel, is in utterly thrilling voice as Margaret Johnson, an American woman who takes her daughter Clara on a sightseeing holiday to Florence and Rome. There's a completely unforced shimmer to her voice, and she brings a finely-contained sense of emotion to her acting, too. She is exquisitely matched by Dove Cameron, the young star of Disney's Descendants franchise, as her daughter Clara, who has a vocal radiance of her own to match her beautiful physical presence. As Fabrizio, the young Italian man she falls in love with, Rob Houchen - a youthful veteran of Les Miserables - has an ardent intensity, and manages to establish his character beautifully despite the only faltering English he is allowed to speak.

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