Royal Festival Hall, London – until 5 July 2019
The Light in the Piazza is a contemporary musical which invokes all the feelings of the Golden Age and is a sumptuous treat for the eyes and ears. The marvellously swooping score by Adam Guettel whisks you away from the opening moment and enthrals you in the beauty and magic of this delicate Italian love story.
Margaret Johnson (Renée Fleming) is a well to do Southern lady who brings her fragile daughter Clara (Dove Cameron) to Florence for a holiday. When Clara falls for a young Italian, Fabrizio (Rob Houchen), Margaret is understandably protective and sceptical. Other than that, very little happens book wise but thanks to the glorious performances and production values, this is a divine musical.
As Clara, Cameron is a marvel. A perfect combination of charm, innocence, an unruly heart and a headstrong mind, she lights up the stage every second she’s on it (which is most of the show). Equally, the more intensely dramatic moments of the musical are performed with a candour and aggression which strikes and moves the audience. Cameron is a true star with vocals to match her captivating performance.
Houchen has a way of surprising audiences with each role he takes on. This time it’s the Italian leading man, Fabrizio, who is swoon-worthy, humorous and charismatic. As always Houchen’s acting performance is strong, with the comedic moments especially landing well; but it’s his vocal performance which solidifies him as the dream casting choice for this role. The swooping vocals seem to pour out of thin air as Houchen captures every moment with ease and control. Alongside Cameron, the pair create a chemistry which fizzles around the Festival Hall and creates a fuzzy feeling from start to end.
Taking the role of the protective mother, Renée Fleming soars. Her deep operatic voice fills the festival hall but still manages to capture the intimate vulnerability she feels throughout. Mention must go to Mick Potter who has designed the sound of this show excellently. With the mix of operatic and musical theatre performers, there is always a risk of one overpowering the other, especially with opera performers usually being unmiced but this is not the case at all and the two styles meld and compliment each other fantastically.
Celinde Schoenmaker oozes sass as she struts across the stage in a smooth two piece and provides some of the musicals conflict during her marvellously performed The Joy You Feel. Liam Tamne is light relief as her husband Guiseppe Naccarelli. Alex Jennings also gives a memorably suave performance as patriarch Signor Naccarelli.
Brigette Reiffenstuel’s ‘frocks’ are completely divine and indulgent, with floating fabrics and tailored Italian suits covering the stage. Backed by Robert Jones’ simplistic but intuitive set, Dove Cameron seems almost doll like as she twirls around Italy in her magnificent pastel coloured clothing.
Sure, the story is lacking, but this is a show about love and you can’t help but feel overcome by warmth as you watch it all play out. There are many a predictable moment, but thanks to Daniel Evans’ direction, they’re all carried out so well that they feel fresh and unexpected, regardless.
The Light in the Piazza runs at the Royal Festival Hall until 5th July 2019
photo credit: Tristram Kenton