Bellissima: A Lonely Heart Finds Home in Theatre Calgary’s The Light in the Piazza

The Light in the Piazza RODRIGO2

Left to Right: Susan Gilmour and Anwyn Musico in The Light in the Piazza, playing now at Theatre Calgary. Photo Credit: Trudie Lee.

For its last show of the 2015/16 season, Theatre Calgary whisks audiences away to Italy with the Tony award-winning musical The Light in the Piazza.

Based on the 1960 novella of the same by Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza tells the story of 26-year-old Clara Johnson (Anwyn Musico) and her mother Margaret (Susan Gilmour) who are away on holiday in Florence, Italy. While out exploring the city with her mother, Clara runs into a young Italian man named Fabrizio Naccarelli (Louie Rossetti), and it is love at first sight. Margaret pulls Clara away from Fabrizio, insisting that the two go their separate ways. In what seems like destiny, Fabrizio runs into Clara and her mother twice more, eventually inviting them to meet his family for tea.

At every turn, Margaret insists that Clara does not get involved with Fabrizio. Fabrizio’s father Signor (David Keeley) sees nothing wrong with their relationship, even if it is all very sudden. What Fabrizio’s family doesn’t know about Clara is that a head injury sustained on her 12th birthday negatively affected her mental and emotional development. Margaret fears that if Fabrizio were to find out the truth about her daughter, he would run away just like all the others, which would devastate Clara. Margaret is conflicted, however, when she sees how happy Clara and Fabrizio are together, and how taken the Naccarrelis are with her.

With the musical opening a week away from Mother’s Day, Margaret’s conflict over letting go of her only child is particularly relevant. Margaret wants only the best for Clara, that is she wants to see her daughter happy. The problem is, there are a number of risks in allowing Clara to be with Fabrizio. Is it her decision, though? When, if ever, do her responsibilities as a mother end? What if the doctors were wrong about Clara, says Margaret to her husband Roy (Christopher Hunt) over the phone.

Meanwhile, Clara is eager to fly free from her overprotective mother and live a fulfilled life, like any young person her age.

What’s interesting about the musical score (music and lyrics by Adam Guettel) is the presence of both English and Italian in the lyrics, with some songs sung entirely in Italian. The book (by Craig Lucas) also features both languages, although with broken english from the Naccarelis added into the mix. As well, the score is majorly influenced by opera, borrowing elements for a less than traditional musical.

For those wondering, there are no translations provided. The lack of translations may seem intimidating, but director Michael Shamata’s effective staging makes clear what the Italian-speaking characters are expressing.

The musical score is magnificently interpreted by musical director Jonathan Monro, who also plays piano in the band. The band is positioned onstage, behind the actors, for a concert feel. The score captures the wonder and innocence of young love, and the pains of old love, splendidly; It’s like a candlelit dinner on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking of which, the production is a feast for the eyes. Set designer Christina Poddubiuk has seemingly airlifted the splendor of Florence into the Max Bell Theatre. The stage rotates to create the illusion of walking along the streets of Florence, and to allow for fluid scene changes. Lighting designer Alan Brodie hits Poddubiuk’s set with an array of warm lights, casting the stage in a romantic softness.

Audiences will fall in love with Musico as the bright-eyed Clara. The young actress brings tremendous vibrancy and vulnerability to her character. Gilmour succeeds in playing a variety of shades as Margaret, a parent who acts only out of love. Rossetti has a lot of fun as Fabrizio, a harmless puppy in love. His charming smile can be seen rows and rows away from the stage. Rosetti and Musico share a delightful chemistry together, making for an adorable stage couple.

From its beautiful musical score to superb performances to strong aesthetics, there’s a lot to love about Theatre Calgary’s production of The Light in the Piazza. The story of a young American woman whose heart finds a home in Italy is told with such grace and elegance that it should not be missed.

Theatre Calgary’s The Light in the Piazza runs April 26 – May 22.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit:

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