Book by Craig Lucas
Music & Lyrics by Adam Guettel
adapted from the novella by Elizabeth Spencer

INFO:
Opened
at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre    April 18, 2005    504 performances
Original Director: Bartlett Sher
Original Choreographer: Jonathan Butterell
Original Producer: Andre Bishop, Bernard Gersten
Original Leads: Margaret: Victoria Clark    Clara: Kelli O’ Hara
Cast Size: Male: 4 Female: 4 Ensemble: 8, could be less or more Total Cast Size: 16
Orchestra: 17, another version for 5
Published Script: Theatre Communications Group
Production Rights: Rodgers & Hammerstein Library
Recordings: The cast album from Broadway.
Film: Lincoln Center filmed a complete live performance and aired it to 2 million people, with the Broadway cast. It is exceptionally well done, and a must if you’re considering this Musical.
Other shows by the authors: Guettel: Floyd Collins
Awards: 11 Tony nominations, 6 wins including Best Score, Actress (Clark)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Opera companies. Serious Broadway and West End Producers. Some colleges and universities, some regional theaters with a deep talent pool of trained singer/actors. Some Little Theaters with a deep talent pool and excellent ability to produce a fluid set that is very well designed. You’ll need an excellent Musical Director, no matter who you are.

Be Warned:
This show is for audiences ready to be challenged. A laid-back crowd waiting for the next revival of Hello Dolly or Fiddler On The Roof won’t go for this show, most likely.

For musically advanced casts only.

THE STORY: (Outline from Wikipedia)

ACT ONE: In the early morning of their first day in Florence, Margaret reads from her guidebook to Clara as the piazza around them is waking up and coming to life (“Statues and Stories”). A breeze carries Clara’s hat off her head and across the square where a young Italian man miraculously catches it, mid-air, and returns it to her. The two are instantly smitten. But Margaret steers her daughter away from the encounter, bringing her next to the Uffizi Gallery where the reaching figures in the paintings speak to Clara of her own yearnings (“The Beauty Is”). Fabrizio appears, hoping to arrange a time to meet with Clara, but once again Margaret intervenes.

Alone, Fabrizio sings in Italian his declaration of love at first sight for Clara, along with a heartfelt cry of fear that she could never love anyone as lost and without position as he (“Il Mondo Era Vuoto”). Fabrizio begs his father and his brother Giuseppe to help him dress more presentably for Clara. Giuseppe attempts to teach Fabrizio some dance steps as well (“American Dancing”).

At the Duomo, Fabrizio once again catches up with Margaret and Clara, and this time Fabrizio’s father, Signor Naccarelli, is able to help penetrate Margaret’s resistance to any further involvement. They all agree to meet at sunset to take a walk and admire the view of the city from above at the Piazzale Michelangelo (“Passeggiata”).

Margaret and Clara are invited to have tea at the Naccarelli home. Giuseppe’s wife, Franca, takes Clara on a tour of the apartment, and alone in a separate room, she warns Clara about ever trusting a husband (“The Joy You Feel”). Though the Naccarellis are universally impressed with Clara, Margaret tries without success to share her deep reservations. When she looks in Fabrizio’s eyes and sees the love there, she can’t bring herself to disappoint him, as much as she feels she must; for there is something about Clara that none of these people know. Clara secretly makes plans to meet Fabrizio at midnight near the hotel.

Margaret calls her husband Roy, who is back in the states. She tries to tell him what is happening with Clara and Fabrizio, but he is brusque and not very understanding, cutting short the conversation. Margaret, alone in her hotel room, reflects on the loneliness in her marriage (“Dividing Day”). She checks in Clara’s room, and finds that she is missing.

On her way to meet Fabrizio, Clara becomes lost in the maze-like streets of Florence. She loses all poise and control, becoming hysterical and screaming like a child (“Hysteria”). Her mother takes her back to the hotel and, as Clara sleeps, reveals the source of her disquiet. When Clara was a young girl, she was kicked in the head by a Shetland pony, and the accident has caused her mental and emotional abilities to develop abnormally. Margaret feels that she must take Clara away from Florence at once, and she steps down into the lobby to have a drink. While she is away, Fabrizio comes to the room, distraught; he cannot find the right words to express his feelings, and Clara urges him to use any other means; Clara accepts Fabrizio’s proposal of marriage, and the two are embracing, half undressed, as Margaret walks in on them (“Say It Somehow”).

ACT TWO: Margaret takes Clara to Rome to distract her and put an end to the affair. Back in Florence, the Naccarelli household is in complete chaos. As the family despairs, Signora Naccarelli translates in an aside; Fabrizio believes he has ruined everything with Clara, his father attempts to comfort him, and Giuseppe and Franca desire finer details (“Aiutami”).

No matter what Margaret tries, her daughter refuses to give her an inch, culminating into a painful confrontation wherein Margaret slaps Clara across the face. Clara erupts with a torrent of feeling, centered on Fabrizio and the nature of love (“The Light in the Piazza”). This causes Margaret to relent, to set aside her doubts and considerations, and to no longer stand in the way of the wedding. The two return to Florence.

Clara is instructed in the Latin catechism in preparation for converting to Catholicism while around her everyone in the extended family sings of their feelings, stirred up by the immediate presence of such intense, young love (“Octet Part 1″). Franca, in an attempt to arouse her husband’s jealousy, kisses Fabrizio right on the mouth, and Clara witnesses it, breaking into a furious rant that ends with her throwing a drink on Franca. As Clara breaks down, Franca commends her for her bravery and declares her own desire to fight for Giuseppe. She toasts the upcoming union and is joined by the rest of the family (“Octet Part 2″).

At the wedding rehearsal, Clara and Fabrizio are filling out the necessary forms when Signor Naccarelli sees something on Clara’s form that causes him to call off the wedding and take his family away at once. Clara wants to know what is wrong with her, but her mother says there is nothing at all wrong. With Clara sobbing and broken, alone in one of the pews of the church, Margaret reveals her worst fears and her shame at having been the source of her daughter’s lifelong suffering. She resolves to do whatever it takes to give to Clara a chance for happiness (“The Beauty Is [Reprise]“).

Margaret tries to reason with Signor Naccarelli. He admits that he saw Clara write her age on the forms – 26 – and that this makes her an unsuitable bride for his son who is only 20. Relieved that he has not discovered their secret, Margaret begs him to change his mind, but he will not. She invites him to take a walk with her, and the two wander from one end of Florence to the other as the sun slowly sets and the night comes on (“Let’s Walk”). By giving him time to mull things over and by not pressuring him, Margaret succeeds in putting the wedding back on track; Signor Naccarelli says he will meet them at the church the following morning.

From the hotel room, Margaret calls Roy to tell him about the wedding. As might be predicted, he insists that Clara cannot handle the responsibilities of marriage. Clara, in her wedding dress, stands in the shadows, overhearing her mother’s side of the conversation. Margaret says, “Just because she isn’t normal, Roy, doesn’t mean she’s consigned to a life of loneliness. She mustn’t be made to accept less from life just because she isn’t like you or me.” Shattered, Clara slips out of the hotel room and runs once more through Florence (“Interlude”), meeting Fabrizio at the church in order to tell him that she cannot marry him; she won’t allow herself to cause him any pain. Fabrizio assuages all of her fears (“Love to Me”).

Moments before the wedding, Clara tells Margaret she can’t leave her; Margaret assures her she can. Left alone, Margaret breaks open all the repressed doubts and yearnings that she has carried for years on end about love, realizing at last that the chance of love somehow outweighs the terrible risks. She joins the wedding ceremony (“Fable”).

THE SONGS:

“Statues And Stories”, “The Beauty Is”, “Il Mondo Era Vuoto”, “American Dancing”, “Passeggiata”, “The Joy You Feel”, “Dividing Day”, “Hysteria”, “Lullaby”, “Say It Somehow”, “Aiutami”, “The Light In The Piazza”, “Octet”, “The Beauty Is (reprise), “Let’s Walk, “Clara’s Interlude”, “Love To Me”, “Fable”

MY OPINIONS:

As always , feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating. If you then can’t find the light in the piazza, over to you.

This is one of those almost unknown shows (unfortunately) that you encounter and can only say “Wow!” Or “Bellissima!” It is funny, charming, beautiful, and musically brilliant. It’s like taking a romantic vacation in Italy! All in one evening of theater. In short, it is magical. It is deeply romantic, and ultimately a deeply-felt song to love and acceptance.

Mr. Guettel’s music is most unusual, and will not work for everyone. It borders closer to opera than to anything we know as traditional Musical Theater. He avoids melody much of the time as if it were the plague, and savors unpredictability in his songs. It works much of the time, and demands an audience (and cast and musicians) stay awake and aware of what is happening. In the end, it is lovely and potent, and unique.

The script is very well constructed and effective, pulling the audience into an understanding of the characters by degree that is deep and gratifying. It gets a bit redundant toward the end, but pays off well in many scenes. There are many, many real laughs in the piece, it succeeds very well as entertainment.

Look, this is a brave show. It is not for every company, every producer or audience. It is rarefied air, fine art, though it is also fine entertainment. Companies with a reputation for some experimentation, for stepping outside the predictable revival box, should be looking seriously at this piece. It deserves serious attention, and productions.

The leads will be hard to cast. Really, almost the seven roles the story moves around all must be very strong in petty much each department. This is a piece about real family values, rather than the trumped-up nonsense our politicians spout endlessly about today. It is about caring for our young, nurturing them, knowing when to let them go. It is about strained marriages and the near endless hope they can be held together. The acting must be very good indeed. And the voices for your leads (Margaret, Clara, Fabrizio), stellar.

I avoided this show for a long time, thinking it was the Musical Theater equivalent of a “chick-flick”, something I really hate. It’s not. I’m sorry I passed it by as long as I did. It is a strong, bold work of art and entertainment, and we should only have a hundred more like it. With stronger melodic content. Or not. (More to come, below.)

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

Mr. Guettel’s music is not like anyone else’s. He seems to immerse himself in the musical language of a story, finding all the colors of the location and time the story takes place in to an unusual extent, as well as reaching somewhere inside himself for the right the emotional colors. The fact that we’ve had only two complete musicals from the man is sort of depressing. He is unique, a show he writes is as much an artistic event as were Sondheim’s in his prime. There are very few composers in Musical Theater history who are really “game-changers.” Gilbert & Sullivan, then Berlin and Kern at the start of Musical Comedy, then Weill and Sondheim, are the most important game changers. Each introduced something fresh, something new musically into the Musical Theater. I would say that Mr. Guettel could become one of these elite – if he writes about 10 more shows. (By the way, he’s the grandson of Richard Rodgers, the son of Mary Rodgers, so he comes by his unique, extraordinary skills honestly! He apparently worked on an unproduced Musical of The Princess Bride, and is working on an adaptation for the Musical Theater of the film, Millions. Let’s hope these see the light of day, in any piazza where there’s a stage.)

His music is also not to every taste. He is undisciplined in terms of song structure and the development of melody, or has made the conscious choice to avoid them. He seems to be ever aimed at modern opera and aria rather than Musical Theater and song. This has a place, certainly – but is it in the Musical Theater? Anything you can do to emphasize bursts of clearly developed melody (and there certainly are some) as a Musical Director would be welcome. (The number “Love To Me” is gorgeous, indicative of what Mr. Guettel can do with a melody.)

The music for this show is rich, operatic rather than Musical Theater. Melody surrenders often to emotional uplift, taking a backseat to sweep and to other priorities. This is unusual in a Broadway-type show. It is both a strength and a weakness. It is. A Musical Director for this show must be expert in both Musical Theater and, well, opera. You’ll be dealing with operatically-trained voices, and Musical Theater voices, both. The music borrows with great taste from both. A job for an excellent musician and experienced Musical Director only.

By the way, you’ll need a very clean, strong, expressive string section, and a fine pianist.

Margaret Johnson – Mezzo, must sing with southern accent. Needs a fine, nearly legit voice, with a bit of a Broadway belt, lovely control in mid-register, access to her high notes with strength. A real and trained voice with a significant range and emotional expression.

Clara Johnson – Clear, youthful, rangy, springy soprano with a pure quality. Must sing with southern accent. A real Broadway ingenue soprano voice, rangy and strong, with a piercing, clear quality.

Roy Johnson – Non-Singing.

Signor Naccarelli – Baritone. Clear and supported, but character-driven.

Signora Nacarelli – Suddenly sings in English in Act II! Mezzo with some upper range.

Fabrizio Naccarelli – Operatic tenor, completely legit voice. Must be opera trained, sing in Italian, with a clean middle register, emotionally expressive voice.

Giuseppi Naccarelli – Speaks only Italian. Lyric baritone.

Franca Naccarelli – Speaks some English, must sing with strong (but understandable to an English audience) Italian accent. Must sing with great emotion. Mezzo with a decent belt, good upper range, or a soprano with a bit of a belt.

Priest – Lyric baritone, sings in Latin. No much singing, doesn’t need much range.

Ensemble – Trained voices, near-legit or classical.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

Nope, no dance here at all. There are numbers with some movement, but it’s all the sort of thing a Director can stage if he understands music and characters. And any Director who doesn’t understand music should avoid this show! This show does not need a Choreographer.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Margaret Johnson – 40s-50s, southern with a defined accent. Clara’s mother. Matronly but well kept up, a southern belle once upon, still lovely if mom-ish. Requires an exceptional comic actress who is instantly likeable, warm but prickly. Enthusiastic about Italy, but just a wee bit of the Ugly American overseas, talking loudly and believing that makes her clearer to those who speak a foreign language. Cast for acting, type, voice (character-driven but with a real range), accent in that order, but must be quite strong at everything.

Clara Johnson – 26, blonde, lovely, sweet-natured, forward young southern lady, one who is freely and even somewhat bizarrely communicative (approaching strangers and touching their hats, asking embarrassing questions), easily excited by new and beautiful things (like Fabrizio). Quite southern with an accent. Injured as a child, and so emotionally and perhaps intellectually stunted…but it shows up as guilelessness, as warmth and perhaps inappropriate enthusiasm, and occasionally degenerates into frightening hysteria. Requires a very versatile, capable actress. Cast for voice, acting, type, southern accent. Must be very strong at everything.

Roy Johnson – Margaret’s husband, Clara’s father. Southern, 40s-50s. Very southern, conservative, tall and handsome. Distrustful of outsiders and foreigners, brief with his wife, all business. Disenchanted with his marriage for a long time, barely tolerant of ti as a distraction, playing out the deception for the world. Will double. Cast for type, acting.

Signor Naccarelli – Italian, 40s-50s, speaks English as a second language, and pretty well. Fabrizio’s dapper, handsome father. His son’s “wing man”, (and a capable wing man at that), distracting and charming in his own right. Learned English working with Americans during WW II. A touch melodramatic, prone to some angry expression. Very much the head of the family. A strong comic actor required. A complex and interesting character, not to be played as a stereotype. Cast for acting, type, voice.

Signora Nacarelli – Signor Naccarelli’s wife. Well-kept, warm, inviting, bright…with grave doubts about Americans that she hides only tenuously behind her welcoming ways. Requires a strong comic actress who plays dry, abrupt for laughs, and who speaks Italian and English fluently and naturally (as the big surprise that starts Act II). Cast for type, acting, Italian & English.

Fabrizio Naccarelli – Italian, 20s, speaks English poorly. Handsome, tall, an eager young man who knows what he wants. Deeply emotional, falls crazy in love with Clara. All thumbs and awkwardness around Clara, and it’s endearing and comic. Requires a very strong, charming, handsome comic actor who sings opera like a God. Cast for voice, type, Italian (must be real), acting. Must be strong at everything. A fantastic role.

Giuseppi Naccarelli – Italian, a handsome man in his 20s-30s. Dances extremely well, like Fred Astaire. Fabrizio’s older brother, a charming and overt womanizer who happens to be married. Very Italian. Drives his father and mother crazy with his immature approach to life. Cast for acting, type, Italian, voice, movement in that order. Really must be good at everything.

Franca Naccarelli – Giuseppi’s Italian wife. A beautiful, vivacious, smart, sexy Italian woman with an Italian temper. Speaks English haltingly, with a thick Italian accent. Deeply hurt by her husband’s philandering, masking it generally with a smile and a flounce, but when it comes to the top it is explosively emotional. Perhaps barren, a point of contention and grief in the family. Cast for acting, voice, type.

Priest – 40s-50s. Speaks Italian and Latin. Capable of some comic exasperation.

Ensemble – A Priest, a tour guide who speaks dry near-English, the people of Florence. All must sing well, with near legit voices, be types one might see in Florence.

SETS:

A unit set, but a significant one that is floor-to-ceiling, made of of the sort of walls, arches and columns seen in museums and squares around Florence. They all must move via the fly system. They must feel like Florence, it is critical this be accomplished. We must feel as though we have entered another world, the world of Florence, even if the set is somewhat representational.

What’s more, there are representations of great works of art, huge ones, that get lowered via the fly system when the characters are in a museum. These must be near-perfect reproductions (or intentionally vague representations) of great art found in specific museums in Florence, in the mid 1950s.

The art design for this show is critical. It must be highly tasteful and highly functional. It cannot impede the flow of the scenes, the scene changes must be soundless, flawless, a part of the artistry of the show.

I enjoyed very much how the Lincoln Center production worked, designed beautifully by Michael Yeargan, and recommend a look. For smaller productions, a few appropriate walls and columns and arches with doorways which can move, perhaps be turned to reveal a second facade, will be able to do the work needed. But the action is always played floor center. There’s no dance, you don’t need to generate a large open space for that purpose. That said, the openness of the set will help suggest a square in Florence, later in Rome, and I think this is necessary and helpful to the mood of the piece. A sense of space, of previously unknown openness and freedom, should be generated by the set. The backdrop can be a cyc lit in the colors of a clear Italian sky. Air, there should be air.

No set for a beginner to design!

COSTUMES:

The American tourists are well-dressed American tourists in the 50′s. The family is a well-dressed and attractive family living in Florence, in he 50s. Dresses and suits, for the most part, but distinct to the period and location. I love the way the Lincoln Center production dressed the actors, work done by Costumer Catherine Zuber. The family is more-or-less color-coordinated, and it’s more than helpful, it helps create a mood, a time and place. Margaret wears a woman’s tailored suit for the period that works well, and Clara, bright and frothy dresses. All of it worked. Take a look!

Not too many costumes to do, but they must be absolutely right for the period. Hats and other accoutrements must be right, as well. And the cast must be able to breathe, to sing. A job for a reasonably experienced Costume Designer, but not the hardest of costuming assignments.

PROPS:

Ladies purses, directions for Clara to meet Fabrizio, phones in the hotel room and back in the States, more. Likely to change somewhat from production to production. Oh, Italians smoke cigarettes. Depending on legal restrictions, you may need the phony kind that provide smoke. All period, the 50s.

LIGHTING:

The light of Florence is unique to Florence, Italy. When outdoors, as at the top of the show, we should have a feel for that warm, inviting Mediterranean sunlight. Even the street lighting at night should somehow feel natural, not “electric” or “designed,” but omnipresent.

This is a very fluid show. Moods and locations change at the blink of an eye. Lighting must help hide the changes, isolating action and hiding the unwanted activity. And must do this very well indeed. Moods will need to change rapidly as well.

No job for a neophyte.

MAKE-UP:

Unobtrusive. Margaret might be a bit too made up, as an American tourist. Italian women make-up as they did in the 50s – see Sophia Loren films. Subtle and appealing. You may need some wigs for some of the women, including ensemble. Overall, a pretty easy job.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Set Designer, Lighting Designer, Margaret, Clara, Fabrizio, Signor Naccarelli.

MY THOUGHTS:
Toward the start of Act II, Signora Nacarelli sings “risk is everything.” Exactly. That is what this show is about, in every way that counts. The writing is itself risky. (The fact that Signora Nacarelli suddenly speaks in English in Act II because we need to understand what is happening allows her to tell us that “risk is everything,” and is, itself, quite a fun risk.) The book is fluid and intimate, like a movie. This is no longer unusual in theater, but it is very well done, here. The mixing of languages in risky – and brilliantly done so we are never left in doubt of what is happening. Lucas and Guettel have mixed the cultures and languages with remarkable expertise. It is daring, always fun and entertaining, and is sometimes moving. It works.

The book is crisp, professional, filled with sharp human observation and humor. It is expertly crafted and effective. Mr. Lucas established a mystery in each act, and pays it off with exceptional skill. The book will help keep this show produced and alive.

And then there’s the score. And it is almost all risk. This is the work of a musically literate composer, extremely so, and a good lyricist. (I would love to see what Mr. Guettel would do working with another lyricist.) Though I hear shades of many shows, from Sondheim to The Most Happy Fella and even South Pacific, this piece stands by itself as a grand musical hybrid, an experiment in the mixing of opera and the Musical that would have made Kurt Weill nod and smile – if it were just a bit more melodic. It is terrific work, and daring. The only problem is, the songs are not memorable as songs. The same is true of Mr. Guettel’s other masterwork, Floyd Collins. It is apparently how he composes pieces.

There was a time when Musicals routinely produced hit songs. But, as Mr. Sondheim’s reciter in Pacific Overtures says, “that was long ago.” Perhaps Mr. Guettel is on the cutting edge of the next “new Musical”, one which cares not a whit whether it produces memorable songs, but instead is all about the experience at the moment, the one the audience has in the theater – and only that experience. Personally, I think a show can always do more than that – but I do think that it must always be an experience for the live audience. Adam Guettel’s works are jewels, and they shine in the lights of the piazza or the theater. Will they live? Will they survive decades and present themselves as important parts of the repertoire? Is he on to something that will become common and desirable? Time will tell.

For now, this show is a prize. It is small cast, beautiful, moving and romantic and very funny, an affirmation of the potential of human love, and human art, and very much worth considering for production. A work of fine art that entertains. Rare.

Book by Craig Lucas
Music & Lyrics by Adam Guettel
adapted from the novella by Elizabeth Spencer

INFO:

Opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre April 18, 2005 504 performances

Original Director: Bartlett Sher

Original Choreographer: Jonathan Butterell
Original Producer: Andre Bishop, Bernard Gersten

Original Leads: Margaret: Victoria Clark Clara: Kelli O’ Hara

Cast Size: Male: 4 Female: 4 Ensemble: 8, could be less or more Total Cast Size: 16

Orchestra: 17, another version for 5

Published Script: Theatre Communications Group

Production Rights: Rodgers & Hammerstein Library

http://www.rnh.com/show/62#shows-rentals

Recordings: The cast album from Broadway.

Film: Lincoln Center filmed a complete live performance and aired it to 2 million people, with the Broadway cast. It is exceptionally well done, and a must if you’re considering this Musical.

Other shows by the authors: Guettel: Floyd Collins

Awards: 11 Tony nominations, 6 wins including Best Score, Actress (Clark)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Opera companies. Serious Broadway and West End Producers. Some colleges and universities, some regional theaters with a deep talent pool of trained singer/actors. Some Little Theaters with a deep talent pool and excellent ability to produce a fluid set that is very well designed. You’ll need an excellent Musical Director, no matter who you are.

Be Warned:
This show is for audiences ready to be challenged. A laid-back crowd waiting for the next revival of
Hello Dolly or Fiddler On The Roof won’t go for this show, most likely.

For musically advanced casts only.

THE STORY: (Outline from Wikipedia)

ACT ONE: In the early morning of their first day in Florence, Margaret reads from her guidebook to Clara as the piazza around them is waking up and coming to life (“Statues and Stories”). A breeze carries Clara’s hat off her head and across the square where a young Italian man miraculously catches it, mid-air, and returns it to her. The two are instantly smitten. But Margaret steers her daughter away from the encounter, bringing her next to the Uffizi Gallery where the reaching figures in the paintings speak to Clara of her own yearnings (“The Beauty Is”). Fabrizio appears, hoping to arrange a time to meet with Clara, but once again Margaret intervenes.

Alone, Fabrizio sings in Italian his declaration of love at first sight for Clara, along with a heartfelt cry of fear that she could never love anyone as lost and without position as he (“Il Mondo Era Vuoto”). Fabrizio begs his father and his brother Giuseppe to help him dress more presentably for Clara. Giuseppe attempts to teach Fabrizio some dance steps as well (“American Dancing”).

At the Duomo, Fabrizio once again catches up with Margaret and Clara, and this time Fabrizio’s father, Signor Naccarelli, is able to help penetrate Margaret’s resistance to any further involvement. They all agree to meet at sunset to take a walk and admire the view of the city from above at the Piazzale Michelangelo (“Passeggiata”).

Margaret and Clara are invited to have tea at the Naccarelli home. Giuseppe’s wife, Franca, takes Clara on a tour of the apartment, and alone in a separate room, she warns Clara about ever trusting a husband (“The Joy You Feel”). Though the Naccarellis are universally impressed with Clara, Margaret tries without success to share her deep reservations. When she looks in Fabrizio’s eyes and sees the love there, she can’t bring herself to disappoint him, as much as she feels she must; for there is something about Clara that none of these people know. Clara secretly makes plans to meet Fabrizio at midnight near the hotel.

Margaret calls her husband Roy, who is back in the states. She tries to tell him what is happening with Clara and Fabrizio, but he is brusque and not very understanding, cutting short the conversation. Margaret, alone in her hotel room, reflects on the loneliness in her marriage (“Dividing Day”). She checks in Clara’s room, and finds that she is missing.

On her way to meet Fabrizio, Clara becomes lost in the maze-like streets of Florence. She loses all poise and control, becoming hysterical and screaming like a child (“Hysteria”). Her mother takes her back to the hotel and, as Clara sleeps, reveals the source of her disquiet. When Clara was a young girl, she was kicked in the head by a Shetland pony, and the accident has caused her mental and emotional abilities to develop abnormally. Margaret feels that she must take Clara away from Florence at once, and she steps down into the lobby to have a drink. While she is away, Fabrizio comes to the room, distraught; he cannot find the right words to express his feelings, and Clara urges him to use any other means; Clara accepts Fabrizio’s proposal of marriage, and the two are embracing, half undressed, as Margaret walks in on them (“Say It Somehow”).

ACT TWO: Margaret takes Clara to Rome to distract her and put an end to the affair. Back in Florence, the Naccarelli household is in complete chaos. As the family despairs, Signora Naccarelli translates in an aside; Fabrizio believes he has ruined everything with Clara, his father attempts to comfort him, and Giuseppe and Franca desire finer details (“Aiutami”).

No matter what Margaret tries, her daughter refuses to give her an inch, culminating into a painful confrontation wherein Margaret slaps Clara across the face. Clara erupts with a torrent of feeling, centered on Fabrizio and the nature of love (“The Light in the Piazza”). This causes Margaret to relent, to set aside her doubts and considerations, and to no longer stand in the way of the wedding. The two return to Florence.

Clara is instructed in the Latin catechism in preparation for converting to Catholicism while around her everyone in the extended family sings of their feelings, stirred up by the immediate presence of such intense, young love (“Octet Part 1″). Franca, in an attempt to arouse her husband’s jealousy, kisses Fabrizio right on the mouth, and Clara witnesses it, breaking into a furious rant that ends with her throwing a drink on Franca. As Clara breaks down, Franca commends her for her bravery and declares her own desire to fight for Giuseppe. She toasts the upcoming union and is joined by the rest of the family (“Octet Part 2″).

At the wedding rehearsal, Clara and Fabrizio are filling out the necessary forms when Signor Naccarelli sees something on Clara’s form that causes him to call off the wedding and take his family away at once. Clara wants to know what is wrong with her, but her mother says there is nothing at all wrong. With Clara sobbing and broken, alone in one of the pews of the church, Margaret reveals her worst fears and her shame at having been the source of her daughter’s lifelong suffering. She resolves to do whatever it takes to give to Clara a chance for happiness (“The Beauty Is [Reprise]“).

Margaret tries to reason with Signor Naccarelli. He admits that he saw Clara write her age on the forms – 26 – and that this makes her an unsuitable bride for his son who is only 20. Relieved that he has not discovered their secret, Margaret begs him to change his mind, but he will not. She invites him to take a walk with her, and the two wander from one end of Florence to the other as the sun slowly sets and the night comes on (“Let’s Walk”). By giving him time to mull things over and by not pressuring him, Margaret succeeds in putting the wedding back on track; Signor Naccarelli says he will meet them at the church the following morning.

From the hotel room, Margaret calls Roy to tell him about the wedding. As might be predicted, he insists that Clara cannot handle the responsibilities of marriage. Clara, in her wedding dress, stands in the shadows, overhearing her mother’s side of the conversation. Margaret says, “Just because she isn’t normal, Roy, doesn’t mean she’s consigned to a life of loneliness. She mustn’t be made to accept less from life just because she isn’t like you or me.” Shattered, Clara slips out of the hotel room and runs once more through Florence (“Interlude”), meeting Fabrizio at the church in order to tell him that she cannot marry him; she won’t allow herself to cause him any pain. Fabrizio assuages all of her fears (“Love to Me”).

Moments before the wedding, Clara tells Margaret she can’t leave her; Margaret assures her she can. Left alone, Margaret breaks open all the repressed doubts and yearnings that she has carried for years on end about love, realizing at last that the chance of love somehow outweighs the terrible risks. She joins the wedding ceremony (“Fable”).

THE SONGS:

“Statues And Stories”, “The Beauty Is”, “Il Mondo Era Vuoto”, “American Dancing”, “Passeggiata”, “The Joy You Feel”, “Dividing Day”, “Hysteria”, “Lullaby”, “Say It Somehow”, “Aiutami”, “The Light In The Piazza”, “Octet”, “The Beauty Is (reprise), “Let’s Walk, “Clara’s Interlude”, “Love To Me”, “Fable”

MY OPINIONS:

As always , feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating. If you then can’t find the light in the piazza, over to you.

This is one of those almost unknown shows (unfortunately) that you encounter and can only say “Wow!” Or “Bellissima!” It is funny, charming, beautiful, and musically brilliant. It’s like taking a romantic vacation in Italy! All in one evening of theater. In short, it is magical. It is deeply romantic, and ultimately a deeply-felt song to love and acceptance.

Mr. Guettel’s music is most unusual, and will not work for everyone. It borders closer to opera than to anything we know as traditional Musical Theater. He avoids melody much of the time as if it were the plague, and savors unpredictability in his songs. It works much of the time, and demands an audience (and cast and musicians) stay awake and aware of what is happening. In the end, it is lovely and potent, and unique.

The script is very well constructed and effective, pulling the audience into an understanding of the characters by degree that is deep and gratifying. It gets a bit redundant toward the end, but pays off well in many scenes. There are many, many real laughs in the piece, it succeeds very well as entertainment.

Look, this is a brave show. It is not for every company, every producer or audience. It is rarefied air, fine art, though it is also fine entertainment. Companies with a reputation for some experimentation, for stepping outside the predictable revival box, should be looking seriously at this piece. It deserves serious attention, and productions.

The leads will be hard to cast. Really, almost the seven roles the story moves around all must be very strong in petty much each department. This is a piece about real family values, rather than the trumped-up nonsense our politicians spout endlessly about today. It is about caring for our young, nurturing them, knowing when to let them go. It is about strained marriages and the near endless hope they can be held together. The acting must be very good indeed. And the voices for your leads (Margaret, Clara, Fabrizio), stellar.

I avoided this show for a long time, thinking it was the Musical Theater equivalent of a “chick-flick”, something I really hate. It’s not. I’m sorry I passed it by as long as I did. It is a strong, bold work of art and entertainment, and we should only have a hundred more like it. With stronger melodic content. Or not. (More to come, below.)

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

Mr. Guettel’s music is not like anyone else’s. He seems to immerse himself in the musical language of a story, finding all the colors of the location and time the story takes place in to an unusual extent, as well as reaching somewhere inside himself for the right the emotional colors. The fact that we’ve had only two complete musicals from the man is sort of depressing. He is unique, a show he writes is as much an artistic event as were Sondheim’s in his prime. There are very few composers in Musical Theater history who are really “game-changers.” Gilbert & Sullivan, then Berlin and Kern at the start of Musical Comedy, then Weill and Sondheim, are the most important game changers. Each introduced something fresh, something new musically into the Musical Theater. I would say that Mr. Guettel could become one of these elite – if he writes about 10 more shows. (By the way, he’s the grandson of Richard Rodgers, the son of Mary Rodgers, so he comes by his unique, extraordinary skills honestly! He apparently worked on an unproduced Musical of The Princess Bride, and is working on an adaptation for the Musical Theater of the film, Millions. Let’s hope these see the light of day, in any piazza where there’s a stage.)

His music is also not to every taste. He is undisciplined in terms of song structure and the development of melody, or has made the conscious choice to avoid them. He seems to be ever aimed at modern opera and aria rather than Musical Theater and song. This has a place, certainly – but is it in the Musical Theater? Anything you can do to emphasize bursts of clearly developed melody (and there certainly are some) as a Musical Director would be welcome. (The number “Love To Me” is gorgeous, indicative of what Mr. Guettel can do with a melody.)

The music for this show is rich, operatic rather than Musical Theater. Melody surrenders often to emotional uplift, taking a backseat to sweep and to other priorities. This is unusual in a Broadway-type show. It is both a strength and a weakness. It is. A Musical Director for this show must be expert in both Musical Theater and, well, opera. You’ll be dealing with operatically-trained voices, and Musical Theater voices, both. The music borrows with great taste from both. A job for an excellent musician and experienced Musical Director only.

By the way, you’ll need a very clean, strong, expressive string section, and a fine pianist.

Margaret Johnson – Mezzo, must sing with southern accent. Needs a fine, nearly legit voice, with a bit of a Broadway belt, lovely control in mid-register, access to her high notes with strength. A real and trained voice with a significant range and emotional expression.

Clara Johnson – Clear, youthful, rangy, springy soprano with a pure quality. Must sing with southern accent. A real Broadway ingenue soprano voice, rangy and strong, with a piercing, clear quality.

Roy Johnson – Non-Singing.

Signor Naccarelli – Baritone. Clear and supported, but character-driven.

Signora Nacarelli – Suddenly sings in English in Act II! Mezzo with some upper range.

Fabrizio Naccarelli – Operatic tenor, completely legit voice. Must be opera trained, sing in Italian, with a clean middle register, emotionally expressive voice.

Giuseppi Naccarelli – Speaks only Italian. Lyric baritone.

Franca Naccarelli – Speaks some English, must sing with strong (but understandable to an English audience) Italian accent. Must sing with great emotion. Mezzo with a decent belt, good upper range, or a soprano with a bit of a belt.

Priest – Lyric baritone, sings in Latin. No much singing, doesn’t need much range.

Ensemble – Trained voices, near-legit or classical.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

Nope, no dance here at all. There are numbers with some movement, but it’s all the sort of thing a Director can stage if he understands music and characters. And any Director who doesn’t understand music should avoid this show! This show does not need a Choreographer.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Margaret Johnson – 40s-50s, southern with a defined accent. Clara’s mother. Matronly but well kept up, a southern belle once upon, still lovely if mom-ish. Requires an exceptional comic actress who is instantly likeable, warm but prickly. Enthusiastic about Italy, but just a wee bit of the Ugly American overseas, talking loudly and believing that makes her clearer to those who speak a foreign language. Cast for acting, type, voice (character-driven but with a real range), accent in that order, but must be quite strong at everything.

Clara Johnson – 26, blonde, lovely, sweet-natured, forward young southern lady, one who is freely and even somewhat bizarrely communicative (approaching strangers and touching their hats, asking embarrassing questions), easily excited by new and beautiful things (like Fabrizio). Quite southern with an accent. Injured as a child, and so emotionally and perhaps intellectually stunted…but it shows up as guilelessness, as warmth and perhaps inappropriate enthusiasm, and occasionally degenerates into frightening hysteria. Requires a very versatile, capable actress. Cast for voice, acting, type, southern accent. Must be very strong at everything.

Roy Johnson – Margaret’s husband, Clara’s father. Southern, 40s-50s. Very southern, conservative, tall and handsome. Distrustful of outsiders and foreigners, brief with his wife, all business. Disenchanted with his marriage for a long time, barely tolerant of ti as a distraction, playing out the deception for the world. Will double. Cast for type, acting.

Signor Naccarelli – Italian, 40s-50s, speaks English as a second language, and pretty well. Fabrizio’s dapper, handsome father. His son’s “wing man”, (and a capable wing man at that), distracting and charming in his own right. Learned English working with Americans during WW II. A touch melodramatic, prone to some angry expression. Very much the head of the family. A strong comic actor required. A complex and interesting character, not to be played as a stereotype. Cast for acting, type, voice.

Signora Nacarelli – Signor Naccarelli’s wife. Well-kept, warm, inviting, bright…with grave doubts about Americans that she hides only tenuously behind her welcoming ways. Requires a strong comic actress who plays dry, abrupt for laughs, and who speaks Italian and English fluently and naturally (as the big surprise that starts Act II). Cast for type, acting, Italian & English.

Fabrizio Naccarelli – Italian, 20s, speaks English poorly. Handsome, tall, an eager young man who knows what he wants. Deeply emotional, falls crazy in love with Clara. All thumbs and awkwardness around Clara, and it’s endearing and comic. Requires a very strong, charming, handsome comic actor who sings opera like a God. Cast for voice, type, Italian (must be real), acting. Must be strong at everything. A fantastic role.

Giuseppi Naccarelli – Italian, a handsome man in his 20s-30s. Dances extremely well, like Fred Astaire. Fabrizio’s older brother, a charming and overt womanizer who happens to be married. Very Italian. Drives his father and mother crazy with his immature approach to life. Cast for acting, type, Italian, voice, movement in that order. Really must be good at everything.

Franca Naccarelli – Giuseppi’s Italian wife. A beautiful, vivacious, smart, sexy Italian woman with an Italian temper. Speaks English haltingly, with a thick Italian accent. Deeply hurt by her husband’s philandering, masking it generally with a smile and a flounce, but when it comes to the top it is explosively emotional. Perhaps barren, a point of contention and grief in the family. Cast for acting, voice, type.

Priest – 40s-50s. Speaks Italian and Latin. Capable of some comic exasperation.

Ensemble – A Priest, a tour guide who speaks dry near-English, the people of Florence. All must sing well, with near legit voices, be types one might see in Florence.

SETS:

A unit set, but a significant one that is floor-to-ceiling, made of of the sort of walls, arches and columns seen in museums and squares around Florence. They all must move via the fly system. They must feel like Florence, it is critical this be accomplished. We must feel as though we have entered another world, the world of Florence, even if the set is somewhat representational.

What’s more, there are representations of great works of art, huge ones, that get lowered via the fly system when the characters are in a museum. These must be near-perfect reproductions (or intentionally vague representations) of great art found in specific museums in Florence, in the mid 1950s.

The art design for this show is critical. It must be highly tasteful and highly functional. It cannot impede the flow of the scenes, the scene changes must be soundless, flawless, a part of the artistry of the show.

I enjoyed very much how the Lincoln Center production worked, designed beautifully by Michael Yeargan, and recommend a look. For smaller productions, a few appropriate walls and columns and arches with doorways which can move, perhaps be turned to reveal a second facade, will be able to do the work needed. But the action is always played floor center. There’s no dance, you don’t need to generate a large open space for that purpose. That said, the openness of the set will help suggest a square in Florence, later in Rome, and I think this is necessary and helpful to the mood of the piece. A sense of space, of previously unknown openness and freedom, should be generated by the set. The backdrop can be a cyc lit in the colors of a clear Italian sky. Air, there should be air.

No set for a beginner to design!

COSTUMES:

The American tourists are well-dressed American tourists in the 50′s. The family is a well-dressed and attractive family living in Florence, in he 50s. Dresses and suits, for the most part, but distinct to the period and location. I love the way the Lincoln Center production dressed the actors, work done by Costumer Catherine Zuber. The family is more-or-less color-coordinated, and it’s more than helpful, it helps create a mood, a time and place. Margaret wears a woman’s tailored suit for the period that works well, and Clara, bright and frothy dresses. All of it worked. Take a look!

Not too many costumes to do, but they must be absolutely right for the period. Hats and other accoutrements must be right, as well. And the cast must be able to breathe, to sing. A job for a reasonably experienced Costume Designer, but not the hardest of costuming assignments.

PROPS:

Ladies purses, directions for Clara to meet Fabrizio, phones in the hotel room and back in the States, more. Likely to change somewhat from production to production. Oh, Italians smoke cigarettes. Depending on legal restrictions, you may need the phony kind that provide smoke. All period, the 50s.

LIGHTING:

The light of Florence is unique to Florence, Italy. When outdoors, as at the top of the show, we should have a feel for that warm, inviting Mediterranean sunlight. Even the street lighting at night should somehow feel natural, not “electric” or “designed,” but omnipresent.

This is a very fluid show. Moods and locations change at the blink of an eye. Lighting must help hide the changes, isolating action and hiding the unwanted activity. And must do this very well indeed. Moods will need to change rapidly as well.

No job for a neophyte.

MAKE-UP:

Unobtrusive. Margaret might be a bit too made up, as an American tourist. Italian women make-up as they did in the 50s – see Sophia Loren films. Subtle and appealing. You may need some wigs for some of the women, including ensemble. Overall, a pretty easy job.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Set Designer, Lighting Designer, Margaret, Clara, Fabrizio, Signor Naccarelli.

MY THOUGHTS:
Toward the start of Act II, Signora Nacarelli sings “risk is everything.” Exactly. That is what this show is about, in every way that counts. The writing is itself risky. (The fact that Signora Nacarelli suddenly speaks in English in Act II because we need to understand what is happening allows her to tell us that “risk is everything,” and is, itself, quite a fun risk.) The book is fluid and intimate, like a movie. This is no longer unusual in theater, but it is very well done, here. The mixing of languages in risky – and brilliantly done so we are never left in doubt of what is happening. Lucas and Guettel have mixed the cultures and languages with remarkable expertise. It is daring, always fun and entertaining, and is sometimes moving. It works.

The book is crisp, professional, filled with sharp human observation and humor. It is expertly crafted and effective. Mr. Lucas established a mystery in each act, and pays it off with exceptional skill. The book will help keep this show produced and alive.

And then there’s the score. And it is almost all risk. This is the work of a musically literate composer, extremely so, and a good lyricist. (I would love to see what Mr. Guettel would do working with another lyricist.) Though I hear shades of many shows, from Sondheim to The Most Happy Fella and even South Pacific, this piece stands by itself as a grand musical hybrid, an experiment in the mixing of opera and the Musical that would have made Kurt Weill nod and smile – if it were just a bit more melodic. It is terrific work, and daring. The only problem is, the songs are not memorable as songs. The same is true of Mr. Guettel’s other masterwork, Floyd Collins. It is apparently how he composes pieces.

There was a time when Musicals routinely produced hit songs. But, as Mr. Sondheim’s reciter in Pacific Overtures says, “that was long ago.” Perhaps Mr. Guettel is on the cutting edge of the next “new Musical”, one which cares not a whit whether it produces memorable songs, but instead is all about the experience at the moment, the one the audience has in the theater – and only that experience. Personally, I think a show can always do more than that – but I do think that it must always be an experience for the live audience. Adam Guettel’s works are jewels, and they shine in the lights of the piazza or the theater. Will they live? Will they survive decades and present themselves as important parts of the repertoire? Is he on to something that will become common and desirable? Time will tell.

For now, this show is a prize. It is small cast, beautiful, moving and romantic and very funny, an affirmation of the potential of human love, and human art, and very much worth considering for production. A work of fine art that entertains. Rare.