‘Lovely to look at’: THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA – Royal Festival Hall

In London theatre, Musicals, Opera, Opinion, Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

Royal Festival Hall, London – until 5 July 2019

The most lyrical and romantic thing about Light In The Piazza is its title. That, and the luscious vintage-style 50s costumes which evoke the American idyll of Italy as captured by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday will have you thumbing through brochures trying to decide between Portofino and Positano for your next break.

The score – by Adam Guettel, grandson of Richard Rodgers-not-Hammerstein – is deliberately lush too, but in a sub-Respighi Pining-to-be-opera way, not in the usual musical theatre manner that moves the plot along and gives you something to hum on the bus.

It also takes 30 members of the excellent Opera North orchestra sawing away at the strings for an hour before we learn the dubious story. American Margaret Johnson travels with a daughter who was kicked in the head by a pony as a child and now has ‘developmental issues’ so she tries to palm her off on a lovestruck Italian swain with a $15,000 sweetener.

Anybody else would have re-written ‘Ain’t that a Kick in the Head’ and introduced some comic relief to the proceedings. Not Mr Guettel, his head’s too far up to kick, so there’s another hour of straining to be authentically Italian. The musical equivalent of Chicken Parmigiana in a Bowery diner.

It’s meant to be a tussle between loving your child and wanting her to have a better life, but from a contemporary standpoint and given that the bung of $15,000 would nowadays be three-quarters of a million – can feel sleazy.

However, American opera star Renée Fleming is an icon, and delivers with honours. As the daughter, Dove Cameron, as soapy and shiny as both her namesakes, comes with a Disney pedigree and 20 million Instagram followers who might be upset if anyone said she’s as irritatingly perky as Amanda Seyfried in the first Mamma Mia!, even if she can hit some unfeasibly high notes.

As the love interest, Rob Houchen is an almost edible Florentine, his superb tenor gracing the awkward melodies, and giving conviction even to the lyrics and dialogue written in GCSE Italian. There’s also a firecracker performance by Celinde Schoenmaker as his sarcastic sister in law, the only character not blinded by romance.

Lovely to look at. Just a bit pretentious in the music department.

Until July 5

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Johnny Fox
‘Johnny Fox’ studied Theatre at Lancaster University and Journalism at City before realising there was no money in either profession and concentrating instead on interior design for investment banks in Singapore, New York and Moscow. Back home, he now writes mostly about theatre, mostly in London, for arts and events websites. He blogs independently at www.johnnyfox.london.
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Johnny Fox
‘Johnny Fox’ studied Theatre at Lancaster University and Journalism at City before realising there was no money in either profession and concentrating instead on interior design for investment banks in Singapore, New York and Moscow. Back home, he now writes mostly about theatre, mostly in London, for arts and events websites. He blogs independently at www.johnnyfox.london.

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