Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN

‘The Light in the Piazza’ illuminates young love

"Set amid marble statues and classical architecture, the musical The Light in the Piazza at Playhouse on the Square presents an elegant love story that should, for reasons as plain as the stars, fit the mold of a perfect romance.

A young American girl, besotted by the beauty of Florence, locks eyes with a young Italian boy across a forum. It's love at first sight. An impetuous marriage proposal falls from both their lips before even the first kiss.

And at that fateful kiss is when the musical written by Adam Guettel, grandson of the great Richard Rodgers, begins to throb with anguish.

The story is a romance, certainly, but not an inevitable one. Hovering in the background of the new love is the young woman's protective mother who knows the real reason her golden-haired daughter seems so young, so innocent, and so unworldly. How can she allow this immature love to ripen?

Director Gary John La Rosa (past Playhouse works include Fiddler on the Roof and Seussical) has taken a show that has the music, atmosphere and grandeur of an Italian opera and crafted a warm, delicate musing about the expectations of love.

Carla McDonald, as Margaret Johnson, not only sings the part of the mother beautifully, she also holds the keys to the audience's heart. The mother's main objections to her daughter's crush are perfectly rational. But love is often senseless and sudden. It's in her letting go – a surrender that's both humorous and devastating – that gives The Light in the Piazza its tender charm.

Actors Emily Z. Pettet and Jesus Manuel Pacheco are feisty and luminous as the young couple, Clara and Fabrizio. The things that would seem to deter them – language and family among them – draw them magnetically together.

Despite the theme of love, The Light in the Piazza is not a simple musical. In fact, Guettel writes some songs completely in Italian. It's not necessary to understand every word, and the actors – particularly Kent Fleshman, Kevin Todd Murphy, Esther Gray and Theresa Brignole – are vivid enough characters that they can be understood just by watching the gestures.

But Hello Dolly it is not. The Light in the Piazza is a somber, intimate valentine to love, a show that demands openness and even a little innocence of its audience."

Christopher Blank – Commercial Appeal

© 2024 Gary John La Rosa