The Light in the Piazza | Lyric Opera, December 19th, 2019
3.5 out of 4 stars
(Originally published on Chicago Stage Standard)
If you are looking for a holiday get away to scenic Italy, look no further than the Lyric! Tony Award-winning musical The Light in the Piazza is here for al limited engagement and stars four-time Grammy Award winner and Tony Award nominee Renée Fleming. For this special Chicago engagement, they are joined by three-time Olivier Award winner Alex Jennings (Netflix’s The Crown) and rising star Solea Pfeiffer (Almost Famous, Hamilton), and rising West End star Rob Houchen (Les Misérables).
Margaret Johnson (Fleming) embarks on a fateful trip to Florence with her daughter Clara (Pfeiffer) in the summer of 1953. A gust of wind whisks Clara’s hat into the hands of local dreamer Fabrizio Naccarelli (Houchen) and it’s love at first sight—but Clara isn’t quite what she appears. Soon her mother is faced with a heart-wrenching decision, and they must all confront a secret that’s been kept in the shadows for far too long.
Compelling and dripping with drama, the layers to the story really unfold through Clara and Fabrizio’s affection for one another. There is a building examination of Clara’s relationship with her mother Margaret, Margaret’s relationship with her husband, and both of the women’s relationships with love is. Can we love too much? Not enough? Is it as black and white as we make it out to be? Rob Houchen, who plays Fabrizio, was such a joy to watch and his solo entirely in Italian was lovely. Houchen’s voice soars over audiences with such an empathetic cascade that tugs at heartstrings and that is seen far and few between. Bravo!
Designed by Robert Jones, the scenery plays well into utilizing the Lyric’s optimal space and acoustics to their benefits. The cobbled walls with alcoved saints statues and a slight tilt and angels is almost unnoticeable, but upon reflection perfectly symbolizes the plot line of the story. Clara doesn’t quite fit in. The scenery around her and the movement design by Lucy Hind drives home this slightly off center feeling. The ensemble swirls on and off the stage in such a circular motion that the audience is swept up into the scenes. It’s a wonderful example production for stage design and execution by far.
Paired with the extreme talents on stage, audience members will by delighted by the costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel. The playful circle skirts with petticoats, lush colorful ensembles and sleek penciled silhouettes highlight the time period and all that it encompasses. The tourist mother-daughter duo are easily contrasted against the relaxed lifestyle of Italian locals. Renée Fleming as Margaret and Alex Jennings as Fabrizio’s father is enticing. I was truly blown away by the pure talent and impressive vocals of Fleming and Jennings’s charisma and masterfully acting was a delight!
The only two critiques I would give is the slight off-balance in brightness of the right spotlight compared to it’s left counterpart. During any duets, it seemed that one person was solely in the dark unless coming to combine the two spots in a moment in close proximity blocking. The other being a common complaint I overheard from audience members of the orchestra overpowering the singing. Take this with a grain of salt, as I’m sure this depends on the health of your hearing. Producers John Berry CBE and Anthony Lilley OBE for Scenario Two and Karl Sydow brings this limited time engagement to Chicago audiences for the holiday season. Directed by multiple Olivier Award-winning director Daniel Evans and features the Lyric Opera Orchestra under the baton of Kimberly Grigsby, conductor of the original Broadway production.
This production is by far in one word: charming. It exceeds in all the right places and adds relatable depth to how strong family bond is, particularly between mother and daughter. The heartwarming story transcends time and speaks to love, doubt and never-ending hope. Take a trip to Florence at the Lyric this winter! You have to see it for yourself!
The Light in the Piazza plays for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 29th, 2019 at Lyrica Opera House (20 N. Wacker Drive). For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit lightinthepiazzathemusical.com.