Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review: (Shaw Festival) The Light in the Piazza

l-r Juan Chioran and Jeff Irving (photo by Emily Cooper)

Florence arrives in Niagara on the Lake
and brings lovely voices with it.
by Dave Ross

Musicals are one of those strange art forms. When someone raises them in conversation, most minds leap to the ‘big’ musicals – Phantom of the Opera, CATS, Les Miserables, etc. From this stems a typical love/hate reaction, usually assuming that these musicals represent the only form of musical that exists. This is so far from the truth on many levels, and something that I too was reminded of when the lights came up on Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’s The Light in the Piazza at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake. The musical is small, delicate, intimate, and emotionally exhausting. In a word – excellent.

The Light in the Piazza tells the story of Clara (Jacqueline Thair) and her mother Margaret (Patty Jamieson). They travel to Florence together, and Clara attracts the eye of Fabrizio (Jeff Irving), and the two become completely besotted. However, there is something about Clara that makes her different from other girls, and Margaret struggles with how to tell Fabrizio’s family. The tension between her conscience and Clara and Fabrizio’s love creates the story, leaving us to wonder if it is better to have loved and lost…

The real highlight of this production is Jeff Irving

The cast is chock-full of top-notch performers. Patty Jamieson’s voice is clear as a bell, and her acting is so polished. Her role demands a lot of varying emotion, comedic timing and delivery, and she delivers all equally well. I can’t imagine a better performance of her role. Jacqueline Thair’s Clara is wonderful as well – her bright-eyed expression and exuberant performance suit her character perfectly, making up for a voice that sometimes can’t top the small, on-stage orchestra. The real highlight of this production is Jeff Irving (Fabrizio). He exudes such complete passion in his performance, and his vocals are of incredible quality. His portrayal of Fabrizio’s befuddlement with the English language and love for Clara, and his angst when she is denied him, are done with boldness and nuance.  Irving was the brightest star on the stage last evening, and he is an actor to keep your eye on. 

The Courthouse Theatre is an intimate venue, with no curtain. Michael Gianfrancesco’s production design utilizes the space well, evoking several different locales with a simple set, in tandem with Andrew Smith’s lighting.  Paul Sportelli directs the small, five-piece, on-stage orchestra, which must provide music through much of the show. Director Jay Turvey’s eye has created a production that performs so well in a small space. It honestly caused me to wonder how this show would look and sound in a space as large as the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at the Lincoln Centre in New York City, where it opened in 2005. This show seems to demand intimacy perfectly afforded by its current venue.

The Light on the Piazza is a rare gem of contemporary musical theatre. Its music sings, the story transforms, and it does these things effortlessly. I will close with my initial assertion of this show – it is excellent. The Shaw Festival selected this beautiful show, and has selected an excellent cast and creative team to bring it to life. I’d strongly suggest you come to Niagara on the Lake, and spend an evening in Florence.  

2 hours 10 minutes with one intermission

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