‘The Light in the Piazza’ Review: When It Comes to Love, They’re Outsiders

Encountering a great work of art can lead to transcendent moments. That’s the idea behind her mother-daughter tour of Florence in her 2005 musical romance film Light in the Piazza, composed by Adam Goettel and written by Craig Lucas. And for the New York City Center audience, an amazing encore awaits! The revival, directed by Chai Yu, opened Wednesday with Lucy Ann Miles’ sensational performance delivering a feeling of near sublime.

Miles, who was nominated for this year’s Tony for her role as a beggar in the Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, vividly and elegantly embodies maternal empathy and self-control as Margaret, the wife of a Southern veteran. ing. She went to Italy for her honeymoon. Now, in the summer of 1953, the fire in her marriage is fading just as her daughter Clara (Anna Zabelson) discovers her desire for the first time. It’s the bittersweet reflection that Miles imbued with her middle-aged grace, fortitude, and her careful wit.

Margaret and Clara’s being Asian-American adds even more shade to their overseas outsiderness. (“I’m as different here as I can be,” sings Clara.) But Clara’s sense of otherness is rooted in a less visible aspect of her identity. As Margaret tells the audience in her brief digression, Clara is “so young for her age” that her cognitive and emotional abilities are inhibited by the events of her childhood.

But it’s not Italian art that broadens Clara’s consciousness during her travels. Shortly after a local dream ship named Fabrizio (James D. Gish) picks up Clara’s hat from the wind, Margaret takes on the enviable task of trying to keep her daughter away from her crush at first sight.

Miles’ rich, precise vocals light up Goettel’s rich, poetic score, which is nimbly and gorgeously orchestrated by Guettel, Ted Sperling, and Bruce Coughlin. (Note the lone clarinet that accompanies the most intimate moments of Margaret’s introspection.) Miles also radiates an ironic intelligence as a wise mother wishing to curb her daughter’s increasingly irrepressible impulses. But another aspect of the story is heightened by casting the characters as Asian-American.

The young lovers flirt while groping to understand each other (Fabrizio speaks little English, but Gish’s Italian is also unconvincing). And while the actors’ connection lacks animalistic charm, their characters are united by fantasies about what love should feel like. Clara has a more compelling awakening in this regard, and Zabelson, who made her professional debut in New York, lends a springy innocence to her portrayal of self-discovery. Both actors sing with charming earnestness, but Gish’s Fabrizio is drawn in broader strokes, as if the enamored Florentine bastards were prowling every nook and cranny looking for Clara. is included.

Fabrizio’s family also tends to be broader, albeit consciously. His younger brother Giuseppe (Rod Cyrus) is a clever womanizer and his wife Franca (Shereen Ahmed) is jealous and warns Clara of her flirtatious whims. His mother, Signora Naccarelli (Andrea Burns), pauses during the Italian song “Ai Uta,” the turbulent emotion that the family displays their collective passion, and how the Naccarelli family are drama queens. Assure the audience that you are aware of something. It’s a self-conscious nod to Goettel and Lucas’ unusual blend of operatic melodrama with the psychological realism of contemporary musical theater. (The pair’s Days of Wine and Roses, currently being performed at the Linda Gross Theater, is based on that formula.)

These elements blend seamlessly in Yu’s concert rendition, which runs through Sunday. (Miles and the ensemble have a guidebook-like leather-bound libretto, but the production is complete and beautifully staged.) The 16-member orchestra is a spectacular centerpiece, and the length of the stage It is elevated on a porticoed platform that runs through it. Set design by Clint Ramos and Miguel Urbino emphasizes depth of field, while the white framework embraces Linda Cho’s sophisticated mid-century costumes and David Weiner’s warm amber lighting. It has become a canvas.

That sense of dimension and perspective carries over to Margaret and Fabrizio’s father, Signor Naccarelli (Ivan Hernandez). They eventually deepen their sympathico as the children are attracted to each other. Margaret herself may be ambivalent about love, recognizing its inevitable fallibility (her husband, played by Michael Hayden, appears on a tense long-distance call). , but she is invested in the possibility of love for Clara. The sparkle of The Piazza.

Margaret’s instincts to protect her daughter and the eventual reconciliation of grief and hope are at the core of the musical’s emotions. And for audiences who know Miles’ own personal history of losing her 5-year-old daughter Abigail to being hit by a car in 2018 and her baby Miles two months later, it goes even deeper. resonance will be generated. She was pregnant at the time.

In a recent interview, Miles reflected that the ending to Margaret’s story might allow her to “finally take a breather.” Whether that’s true or not, at least Miles’ performance is sure to take your breath away.

light in the square
Until June 25th at New York City Center in Manhattan. nycitycenter.org. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

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