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Review: THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at CCAE Theatricals 'is a gorgeous trip to 1950s Florence, Italy that should not be missed.'

Playing through June 25th

Review: THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at CCAE Theatricals 'is a gorgeous trip to 1950s Florence, Italy that should not be missed.' THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA by CCAE Theatricals is a gorgeous trip to 1950s Florence, Italy that should not be missed. Full of soaring vocals, beautiful costumes and sets, and absolutely lush orchestrations played by a live orchestra this is a show that is fantastic from start to finish. THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA through June 25 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

This play is based on the 1960's novel of the same name by Elizabeth Spencer. Wife and mother Margaret Johnson (Nancy Snow Carr) has brought her daughter Clara (Madison Claire Parks) to experience the art and history of Italy. Florence is of special significance since that is where Margaret honeymooned with her own husband Roy (Tucker Boyes) many years before.

When the wind takes Clara's hat it is rescued by the handsome Fabrizio (Nigel Huckle) who immediately becomes infatuated with the beautiful Clara. While Margaret, who is overprotective to the point of smothering, tries to slow and discourage the whirlwind lovers, but she finds that the enchanted Italy of her memories may also challenge her understanding of her future for both her and her daughter.

As the young lovers get serious and discuss marriage, Fabrizio's family including father Signor Naccarelli (John LaLonde), Mother Signora Naccarelli (Debra Wanger), brother Giuseppe (Colden Lamb), and Guiseppe's wife Franca (Melissa Musial) all seem encouraging of the relationship. Margaret struggles with slowing down the relationship and what to disclose about Clara to this family.

Review: THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at CCAE Theatricals 'is a gorgeous trip to 1950s Florence, Italy that should not be missed.'

At the heart of the plot is the fact that Clara suffered a head injury as a pre-teen, with doctors telling her parents she will be unable to regulate her emotions. Margaret has dedicated her life to taking care of and overprotecting Clara, and wonders if she should possibly be treated more like the independent woman she seems to have become, in spite of this emotional irregularity.

Margaret wonders if not telling them is deceiving, and her husband Roy forbids the marriage, saying if the family finds out later that "they might sue." Yet the Naccarelli's seem to have no issue with Clara's passionate shows of emotions they never hesitate to show their emotions at top volume as they feel them.

Which makes you wonder if maybe Clara just lost her ability to fit in with the idealized emotionally closed-off "society" in which she was raised?

Parks and Huckle as Clara and Fabrizio bring beautiful young love full of passion and enthusiasm to life along with clear and soaring passionate vocals. Parks has the right balance of inviting innocence and love for Fabrizio, while also fighting her mother to cut the apron strings. When Huckle sings of Fabrizio's infatuation in Italian the audience may not understand the words, but there is no question that they are as overwhelmed by it as Fabrizio is overwhelmed by Cara.

The emotional heart of the piece belongs to Carr as Margaret, who sings beautifully and is funny, loving, conflicted, and hopeful all at the same time. Margaret struggles with the sudden transitions in life she is facing - she wants Clara to be happy, but also doesn't want her to be in a situation she can't handle. Italy was a magical place full of love and hope when Margaret was first there on her honeymoon and is now challenging her ideas of what marriage and love were then and as they stand now. It's a difficult and bittersweet mix of humor, love, hope, and resignation all at once.

Lalonde is winning as the silver fox Signor Naccarelli, Lamb brings laughs (and some American dance moves) as Giuseppe. Musial is fiery as Giuseppe's wife Franca, and Wanger balances them all out with dry humor as she explains what is going on to the audience.

Review: THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at CCAE Theatricals 'is a gorgeous trip to 1950s Florence, Italy that should not be missed.'

The score by Adam Guettel is ambitious and requires everyone to sing with great precision and range to make the songs come fully to life. Some of the songs and dialogue are entirely in Italian, but there is no need for translation as the performances directed by Kari Hayter make what is happening abundantly clear. The 15-member cast along with the 15-member orchestra led by Conductor Lisa LeMay combine to create a truly rich musical experience. (Also, a tear came to my eye when the curtain raised and I saw the live orchestra through the arches.)

The musical plays out on a set Joe Holbrook that presents a beautiful hint of the idealized Italy in which the story plays, with sweeping arches, and a soaring Duomo in the background. Lighting by Nick Van Houten is excellent. Together with the costumes by Janet Pitcher, it all comes together to create a picture as beautiful and eloquent as any of the paintings Margaret and Clara are there to admire.

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is a fantastic and beautiful jaunt to Italy in Escondido. After the bows stay for the orchestra and savor their beautiful music until it's done.

How To Get Tickets

You can see THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA from CCAE Theatricals through June 25 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. For ticket and show time information go to artcenter.org

Photo Credit: CCAE Theatricals and Ken Jacques



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