No question that soprano Renée Fleming, an opera superstar who has sung leading ladies from Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” to Nettie Fowler in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is a fine fit as Margaret Johnson in Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’ “The Light in the Piazza.”
Her remarkable voice, joyfully greeting Florence in the opening scene, heartbreaking in “Dividing Day” following a phone call back home when she realizes her own marriage lacks love, and later swelling with a renewed understanding of love versus risks in her final song, “Fable,” makes going to this production at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House worth attending.
However, audiences need to know they won’t be seeing a production that is an opera or a musical. More operetta than opera “Piazza” is a hybrid that infuses the Italian language into scenes without the benefit of overhead subtitles, contains the kind of plot line about childhood injuries that stunt maturation encountered in books (this one was a 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer) and is built around the exuberance of young love found in stage musicals.
A touring production presented by John Berry and Anthony Lilley for Scenario Two Ltd. & Karl Sylow, Fleming is backed by a superb cast starting with Solea Pfeiffer (“Almost Famous,” “ Evita”) who replaced Dove Cameron, Margaret’s daughter, Clara, in the October show in LA.
Olivier award winning actor Alex Jennings replaces Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell as Signor Naccarelli, the father of Fabrizio who falls in love with Clara. Naccarelli, who first encourages the romance changes his mind when he learns that Clara is 26. Fabrizio, played by tenor Rob Houchen (“Les Miserables” “Candide) is only 20.
Adding to what is a good blending of voices are Fabrizio’s family: soprano Marie McLaughlin as Signora Naccarelli, Broadway veteran Eric Sciotto as Guiseppe Naccarelli and soprano Suzanne Kantorski replacing Celinde Schoenmaker as Favrizio’s sister-in-law, Franca Naccarelli. Actor Malcolm Sinclair is Margaret’s long-distance (literally) husband Roy Johnson.
The production features an unusual set design that is supposed to take care of several scenes, ranging from a Florentine piazza, café and hotel room to the Naccarelli home, the Duomo and ruins of Rome and barely meets the needs of any of them.
“Piazza,” the musical, won six Tony awards (2005) but the theme music and songs are unlikely to be hummed when leaving the theater. This production pairs its story, mostly narrated by Margaret, with a score similar to operatic music. Kimberly Grigsby who was the 2006 national tour’s music director conducted in LA and now, in Chicago. The production is directed by Olivier winner, Daniel Evans.
DETAILS: The Light in the Piazza” is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, through Dec. 29, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera/Light in the Piazza 0r Light in the Piazza the musical.
For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago