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Lovely “The Light in the Piazza” at Two Muses (review) November 8, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Two Muses, that great theater company in the Barnes and Noble in West Bloomfield (looking for new space since B&N is closing at the end of the year), is currently presenting a lovely production of “The Light in the Piazza” through November 22nd, and it is a wonderful evening (or afternoon) of musical theater.

Adam Guettel and Crag Lucas’s musical ran at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center and was eventually taped and shown on PBS. It has had a successful afterlife in regional and college theaters (in fact University of Michigan is presenting it in December, and the Encore Musical Theatre Company had a terrific production a few years back). It is also one of my favorite musicals.

The show is in good hands at Two Muses, under the direction of Joe Bailey, and musical direction of Jeff Bobick. Bobick’s reduced orchestrations, in fact, sound lovely in the space and don’t feel like they have lost any of the full-orchestra’s tone and general sound.

I don’t want to divulge much of the plot, because its the essence of the show not to know what is going to happen — to take the romantic journey with its characters — that makes it work so well on stage.  It is 1953, and Margaret (very good Diane Hill) and her special daughter Clara (superb Annie Kordas) take a “vacation” (i.e. extended getaway) from Winston, Salem to Florence (and later Rome). Through a romantic meet-cute, Clara is instantly smitten by Italian young man Fabrizio (exceptionally played by Vince Kelley) and their romance blossoms. What follows is family entanglements, complications, and an almost-mystery about what makes Clara so special after all. Father Signor is played well by John DeMerell, and his non-English speaking wife by Beth Lackey (there’s a surprise in store in her hilarious Act II opening song). Arjun Sebastian Nagpal plays brother Giuseppe, who is all swagger and Italian lust (well conveyed), and his wife Franca is excellently acted and sung by Aynsley Martindale. Assorted other male parts are played by charming Kevin Kuznia.

The cast is small, even by small show standards (The original Broadway cast had 18 members). That is the one downside of a chamber-size musical: this Florence has no town folk in it. While the direction cleverly finds ways to give the illusion that there are people around, well, there just aren’t. People don’t pass in greeting. Waiters don’t appear in the cafe, and the paperboy doesn’t deliver the morning paper. But it all works well in the space except for the sequence in which Clara becomes lost in the city while looking to meet Fabrizio — without people there, without shadows, without the feeling that strangers  are “closing in on her”, that particular scene loses its sense of drama.

But that is well made-up for in the outstanding performances, and the overall dramatic arc of the show — and in this intimate setting, you can understand every single word, and make a decision yourself about the ultimate decisions that these characters make.

The scenic design by Jennifer Maiseloff works well, the costumes are stunning (also by Vince Kelley), though there is a bit of superfluous choreography by Molly Zaleski. What she has provided (in particular during Passeggiata) is well executed (and takes the place of 10 additional ensemble members bringing life to the streets of Florence), but I am not sure it belongs.

Don’t hesitate to get tickets to The Light in the Piazza — it is a romantic, wonderful production — and you will leave feeling like you know these people, and that is a very good thing.

The Light in the Piazza continues until November 22 at Two Muses Theater, 6800 Orchard Lake road inside the Barnes and Noble. Tickets online at twomusestheatre.org or by calling 248-850-9919.

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