Royal Festival Hall, London – until 5 July 2019
Crossing the Atlantic, Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza deploys some of the finest musical theatre talent in town to tell its curiously enchanting love story in a plot that upends one of society’s most deeply rooted taboos and prejudices.
The young and beautiful Clara Johnson together with her mother Margaret are American tourists footloose in Florence. A chance encounter with Fabrizio, a handsome Florentine, ignites a youthful, passionate love – and as Margaret anxiously frets over her daughter’s emotions, a carefully nuanced story unfolds.
To say much more of the plot would spoil. Suffice to say that the unexpected twists offer a touching and unconventional portrayal of love, affection and the challenges of honesty that make for a rare and wonderful evening.
Making their professional debuts on this side of the pond are Broadway and opera’s leading lady Renée Fleming as Margaret, alongside Instagram and Hollywood star Cameron Dove playing Clara. Fleming’s classical voice stands out as a beacon of aural magnificence, effortlessly filling the Royal Festival Hall and notwithstanding the excellence that surrounds her on stage, Fleming’s powerfully poignant performance is worth the ticket price on its own. Dove’s Clara is an unexpectedly complex piece to deliver – and as the tale unfolds, she turns in an act of remarkably measured and touching sensitivity.
These two American women are the only players on stage allowed to perform in their native tongue. Everyone else has to masquerade in cod Italian – and if there is but one niggle of the piece it is the irritation of massed, cliched Latin dialects. The singing however is top notch. Rob Houchen’s Fabrizio captures the combination of Houchen’s physical and vocal beauty – the love that sparks between him and Dove is delightfully plausible and convincing.
Alex Jennings is Fabrizio’s father – a man who we learn has never lost his admiration for the fairer sex, while Liam Tamne and Celinde Schoenmaker play his son and daughter-in-law. Guettel has liberally sprinkled his libretto with narrative-advancing solo turns throughout his cast, and under Daniel Evans’ perceptive direction the musical theatre treats are frequent.
For a simply presented semi-staged show, the highly spec’d creative work only enhances the production. Mark Henderson’s lighting offers an enchanting brilliance to Robert Jones’ delightfully suggestive set – as, sat above the action, Kimberly Grigsby conducts the Opera North orchestra in a lavish treatment of Guettel’s score.
Only on until July 4th before an international tour, The Light In The Piazza is a must see for all who appreciate modern writing and quality musical theatre.
Runs until July 4th