Pulling Strings in Italy

Today we went to the Ahamanson Theatre to see A Light in the Piazza. I didn’t have high expectations going in, even though the show won 6 Tony awards (score, orchestration, lead actress, scenic design, costume design, lighting design). Why? When I listened to the cast album, it didn’t grab me. There’s a particular type of music that, to me, typlifies good show music: a good brass line. Yes, I like the strings and the winds, and of course there must be good percussion, but it is brass and piano that really get me going. The music from Light in the Piazza was heavily strings, with a little winds and a little percussion. Very soft. Very Montovani. To me, not my taste. It was unbalanced.

As for the story. There is the mother and her daughter visiting Italy in the early 1950s. The daughter, who is about 26 but bright and cheerful and carefree, meets an Italian fellow. It is fate. The gods (and the writers of the book) decree that (stenotorian voice here) “they must get together”. That they do, over the mother’s initial objections. Why does the mother object? It appears her daughter is special. She got kicked in the head by a pony when she was ten, and although her body has aged, her mind hasn’t. Does this stop the marriage? C’mon, beautiful young girl and an Italian hunk of a man. Of course not. The mother eventually lets go, and they get married.

How to characterize this show? My wife felt it was the theatre equivalent of a “chick flick”, especially after two hours of looking at said Italian hunk mostly with his shirt off. She said this is the sort of a show that married women go to and drag along their husbands. I would tend to agree: the plot didn’t really do much for me. If I want an Italian romance musical, I’ll go see Do I Hear A Waltz?.

How would I characterize it? I think it has parallels to Gypsy, although it is not as strong in either music or story. Both are stories where you have a mother that doesn’t want to let go of the child she has protected. In Gypsy, it is the mother who yearns for the daughter’s life. In LitP, it is the mother who won’t accept her daughter’s life. Both learn, but luckily for the mother in LitP, the relationship isn’t destroyed.

Note that I haven’t said anything about the acting. There’s a reason. Whatever I didn’t like about this show, it wasn’t the acting. The actors did a marvelous job with the material they had: it was wonderfully acted and wonderfully sung. The production stareed Christine Andres as Margaret Johnson, and Elena Shaddow as Clara Johnson, her daughter. Both were remarkable actresses; I was particular taken with the beauty and skill of Ms. Shaddow. On the other side of the wedding aise, we have the Naccarelli family (boy, I feel like Richard Dawson), with David Ledingham as Signor Naccarelli (the father), Diane Sutherland as Signora Naccarelli (the mother), Jonathan Hammond as Giuseppe Naccarelli (the brother), Laura Griffith as Franca Naccarelli (Giuseppe’s wife), and David Burnham as Fabrizio Naccarelli (the hunk). Of the Naccarelli’s, I was impressed by Mr. Burnham, who had a remarkable voice and presence. Rounding out the cast were Brian Sutherland, Evangelia Kingsley, Craig Bennett, Wendi Bergamini, Laurent Giroux, Sean Hayden, Leslie Henstock, Prudence Wright Holmes, Evangelia Kingsley, and Adam Overett. The production was directed by Bartlett Sher, with book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, basen on a novel by Elizabeth Spencer (and yes, it was based on a movie). Musical direction was by Kimberly Grigsby, and musical staging was by Jonathan Butterell. There are more credits available at the Taper Ahmanson site.

The upcoming theatre calendar is getting sparser. We have the production for my daughter’s show on 12/7 and 12/8 (email if you want to attend); Santaland Diaries/Seasons Greetings, 12/23 @ 8pm; 13 (a new musical by Jason Robert Brown) on 1/14 at 2:30pm; and Defiance in early February 2007.