The Light in the Piazza is not a “belty” show, as are most of the new shows we’ve been seeing on Broadway. No, Adam Guettel draws less on rock and pop music and more on opera and classical music to create his romantic score, filled with soaring violins and Classically trained voices. It’s possible that this choice is partly why the show isn’t more widely known, but I’m glad he made it just the same. The lush music suits the story and the setting (Florence , Italy).
My local theater company put this show on last fall, and after one of the performances I heard an audience member mention that the story was “creepy”. Or maybe she said “strange”. This reaction might also factor into the relative obscurity of the show. I actually really like the story, although I will admit it’s challenging in that it takes a lot of thought, and it also depends a lot upon the interpretation of the role of Clara. The general idea is that Clara, now 26, was in an accident when she was eleven or twelve that froze her mental and emotional development, so ever since she has led a very sheltered existence. But now she and her mother are on holiday in Italy, and suddenly love strikes from the sky like lightning. One of the questions the show pivots around is, exactly how impaired is Clara? This is a question that is never answered explicitly, so one just has to guess. Is she, as her mother finally comes to believe, capable of more than they’d assumed? Can she aspire to a “normal” life with a husband and possibly even children? Is she mature enough to truly love? Or, is this all wishful thinking doomed to dreadful disappointment? Plus we explore the obligations of disclosure (how much does the mother have to tell Clara’s lover? What about his family?) and we watch events shape and change Clara’s mother, whose worldview has been turned on its head by the end of the show. An ironic twist that happens mid-way through Act 2 highlights the differing values of the two families in question.
The fact is, a lot of these issues and questions are uncomfortable, so I can understand why audience members might be uneasy afterwards. But for me, this is the best kind of theater: theater that makes me re-evaluate myself and how I see the world, and that leaves an open question.
A few favorite moments, both from the Second Act:
“The Light in the Piazza”, sung by Clara in Rome, when she wishes to return to Florence (and the man she’s fallen in love with). One of my personal favorites to sing.
“Fable”, sung by Clara’s mother Margaret at the end of the show. This song is truly epic.
Ah, so beautiful! If you like what you’ve heard, “Dividing Day,” “The Beauty Is,” and “Let’s Walk” are also songs worthy of attention. I’ll definitely be on the look-out for any new work by this promising composer.