The Light in the Piazza
The Light in the Piazza is a musical with a book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel. Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, the story is set in the 1950s and revolves around Margaret Johnson, a wealthy Southern woman and Clara, her daughter who is developmentally disabled due to an unfortunate encounter with her birthday pony. The two spend a summer together in Italy. When Clara falls in love with a young Italian man, Margaret is forced to reconsider not only Clara’s future, but her own deep seated hopes and regrets as well.
The score breaks from the 21st century tradition of pop music on Broadway by moving into the territory of Neoromantic classical music and opera, with unexpected harmonic shifts and extended melodic structures, and is more heavily orchestrated than most Broadway scores. Many of the lyrics are in Italian or broken English, as many of the characters are fluent only in Italian.
Back Story and Productions
The Light in the Piazza was developed as a musical at the Intiman Playhouse in Seattle in June 2003 and then at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in early 2004. After 36 previews, the Broadway production opened on April 18, 2005 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, where it ran for 504 performances and closed on July 2, 2006. The musical was directed by Bartlett Sher, choreographed by Jonathan Butterell, with lighting by Christopher Akerlind, set by Michael Yeargan and costumes by Catherine Zuber. The cast featured Victoria Clark, Kelli O’Hara, Matthew Morrison, Michael Berresse and Sarah Uriarte Berry. Chris Sarandon joined the cast as Signor Naccarelli later in the run, Aaron Lazar was a replacement in the role of Fabrizio Naccarelli and Katie Rose Clarke was a replacement in the role of Clara Johnson. In the pre-Broadway production in Seattle and Chicago, Kelli O’Hara played the role of Franca rather than Clara (who was played by Celia Keenan-Bolger), and Steven Pasquale had played Fabrizio, but could not open on Broadway due to a conflict with the television series Rescue Me that he had just joined.
On June 15, 2006, shortly before its closing night, the show was broadcast on the PBS television series Live from Lincoln Center, and drew more than two million viewers. The cast consisted of Victoria Clark (Margaret Johnson), Katie Rose Clarke (Clara Johnson), Aaron Lazar (Fabrizio), Chris Sarandon (Signor Naccarelli), Patti Cohenour (Signora Naccarelli), Michael Berresse (Giuseppe Naccarelli), Sarah Uriarte Berry (Franca), and Beau Gravitte (Roy Johnson).
A United States national tour starring Christine Andreas as Margaret, Elena Shaddow as Clara, and David Burnham as Fabrizio Naccarelli started at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, California, in August 2006 and ended in Chicago on July 22, 2007.
A Japanese production of the musical was produced in December 2007, having a limited engagement of about a month. It starred Kaho Shimada as Margaret Johnson.
An Australian concert version had a one-night presentation at the Lyric Theatre, Star City in Sydney on August 17, 2008. The cast consisted of members of the Australian company of The Phantom of the Opera, with Jackie Rees as Margaret, Kathleen Moore as Clara and James Pratt as Fabrizio. The production was directed by John O’May.
In the summer of 2008, Guettel reconfigured the musical as a smaller chamber piece for the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, Weston, Vermont, where Sarah Uriarte Berry reprised her role as Franca.
The show had its opera house premiere in October 2008 at Piedmont Opera in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It starred Jill Gardner as Margaret and Sarah Jane McMahon as Clara, directed by Dorothy Danner and conducted by James Allbritten.
The first Los Angeles area local premiere was seen at the Covina Center for the Arts, in Covina, California in 2009. It starred Christopher Callen as “Margaret”, Brooke Tansley as “Clara” and Craig D’ Amico as “Fabrizio” (all Broadway veterans) under the direction of Brady Schwind.
The Lethbridge Symphony Orchestra in Alberta presented the musical at the Yates Memorial Theatre October 19–21, 2009 which was the Canadian première. Directed by Fran Rude and musical direction by Ken Rogers this production starred Diane Llewelyn-Jones as Margaret, Nicole Higginson as Clara and Steven Morton as Fabrizio.
The Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto saw the Canadian première by Acting Up Stage open on January 30, 2010.
The Arena Stage (Washington, DC), production ran from March 5, 2010 through April 11, 2010, with Hollis Resnik as Margaret.
The European premiere was directed by Paul Kerryson at the Curve Theatre, Leicester, UK in May 2009, starring Lucy Schaufer as Margaret and Caroline Sheen as Clara, with design by George Souglides, musical direction by Julian Kelly, lighting design by Giuseppe di Iorio, sound design by Paul Groothuis.
A highly acclaimed production at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater in Chicago opened on March 11, 2012 starring Kelli Harrington as Margaret and Rachel Klippel as Clara. Harrington’s performance won the Jeff Award for Best Actress. The run has been extended through June.
The 2013 Shaw Festival production runs in rep at the Court House Theatre in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada. Preview began July 3, 2013 and officially opened July 26, 2013. Directed by Jay Turvey, starring Patty Jamieson as Margaret Johnson, the show runs till October 13.
Front Porch Theatricals (Pittsburgh) staged a performance as the second show of their 2015 season in August. It received rave reviews from both local and national critics with Broadway World hailing the overall production and Josh Grosso in the role of Fabrizio. The cast included Becki Toth as Margaret and Lindsay Bayer as Clara. It was directed by Stephen Santa.
On April 4, 2016, the entire original Broadway cast reunited for a benefit concert version of the musical at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, where it originally played. The musical is expected to be produced in London at Royal Festival Hall from June 14, 2019 to July 5, starring Renee Fleming as Margaret Johnson and Dove Cameron as Clara. Daniel Evans will direct.
|Character||Seattle(2003)||Broadway(2005)||United States National Tour(2006)||London(2019)|
|Margaret Johnson||Victoria Clark||Christine Andreas||Renee Fleming|
|Clara Johnson||Celia Keenan-Bolger||Kelli O’Hara||Elena Shaddow||Dove Cameron|
|Fabrizio Naccarelli||Steven Pasquale||Matthew Morrison||David Burnham|
|Giuseppe Naccarelli||Glenn Seven Allen||Michael Berresse||Jonathan Hammond|
|Franca Naccarelli||Kelli O’Hara||Sarah Uriarte Berry||Laura Griffith|
|Signora Naccarelli||Patti Cohenour||Diane Sutherland|
|Roy Johnson||Robert Shampain||Beau Gravitte||Brian Sutherland|
|Signor Naccarelli||Mark Harelik||David Ledingham|
Broadway Cast Alternates
- Patti Cohenour performed the role of Margaret Johnson on Friday evenings and Saturday matinees.
- Diane Sutherland performed the role of Signora Naccarelli on Friday evenings and Saturday matinees.
- Aaron Lazar replaced Matthew Morrison as Fabrizio Naccarelli on September 2, 2005
- Chris Sarandon replaced Mark Harelik as Signor Naccarelli on September 13, 2005
- Jennifer Hughes replaced Kelli O’Hara as Clara Johnson on December 6, 2005
- Katie Rose Clarke replaced Jennifer Hughes as Clara Johnson on December 15, 2005
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, Fabrizio, 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 how quickly love can stale in marriage (“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”).
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 Clara a chance for happiness (“The Beauty Is [Reprise]”).
Margaret tries to reason with Signor Naccarelli, who saw Clara’s childlike handwriting as she completed her marriage form. Seemingly unconcerned with her immaturity or her handwriting, Signor Naccarelli 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”).
Curtain Up called the musical a “gorgeously staged and musically sophisticated adaptation… the Guettel sound is nevertheless plush and enjoyable with a genuine musical theater sensibility…. Lucas has made room for the young lovers’ voices and retained enough of the psychological complexities to prevent this from being the dated soap opera it could easily have been.” Michael Feingold, in his review for the Village Voice, commented: “It has some considerable shortcomings…but its main distinction is that its humanity separates it from the bulk of current musical theater.”
Critic John Simon, in New York magazine, wrote: “Anyone who cares about the rather uncertain future of this truly American genre should — must — see the show, think and worry about it, and reach his or her own conclusions . . . Craig Lucas’s book seems perfectly adequate to me, but the emphasis must be on Adam Guettel’s music and lyrics . . . the music, though fluctuating between the Sondheimesque and offbeat but still Broadwayish and the art-songlike and even operatic, is steadily absorbing, even if only intermittently melodious. One duet, “Let’s Walk,” is an unqualified hit, but the rest, without fully cohering, is also arresting. Ted Sperling and Guettel’s jaunty orchestrations add to the slightly disorienting but wholly fascinating harmonies and instrumentation.”
Ben Brantley, in The New York Times, deemed the show “encouragingly ambitious and discouragingly unfulfilled… the production comes into its own only in the sweetly bitter maternal regrets and dreams of Margaret Johnson.” He further made special mention of the “gorgeous autumn-leaf-strewn set”, the “lush golden lighting” and “the delectable period costumes”.
Awards and Nominations
Original Broadway Production
|2005||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Book of a Musical||Craig Lucas||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Adam Guettel||Won|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Victoria Clark||Won|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Matthew Morrison||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Kelli O’Hara||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Bartlett Sher||Nominated|
|Best Orchestrations||Adam Guettel, Ted Sperling and Bruce Coughlin||Won|
|Best Scenic Design||Michael Yeargan||Won|
|Best Costume Design||Catherine Zuber||Won|
|Best Lighting Design||Christopher Akerlind||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Matthew Morrison||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actress in a Musical||Victoria Clark||Won|
|Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical||Sarah Uriarte Berry||Nominated|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Bartlett Sher||Nominated|
|Outstanding Orchestrations||Ted Sperling and Adam Guettel||Won|
|Outstanding Music||Adam Guettel||Won|
|Outstanding Set Design||Michael Yeargan||Won|
|Outstanding Costume Design||Catherine Zuber||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lighting Design||Christopher Akerlind||Won|
|Outstanding Sound Design||Acme Sound Partners||Nominated|
- ‘The Light in the Piazza’ listing rnh.com, retrieved January 28, 2010
- Simonson, Robert. ” ‘The Light in the Piazza’ “Live From Lincoln Center” Attracts Big Audience”, playbill.com, September 15, 2006
- Simonson, Robert.“Light in the Piazza Tour, with Christine Andreas, Begins in San Francisco Aug. 1”, playbill.com, July 31, 2006
- ‘The Light in the Piazza’ listing australianstage.com.au, retrieved January 28, 2010
- listing westonplayhouse.org, retrieved March 11, 2009
- listing piedmontopera.org, retrieved March 11, 2009
-  Acting Up Stage Company  Show website
- Arena Stage 2009-2010 Season – The Light in the Piazza arenastage.org, January 23, 2010
- Marks, Peter.“Peter Marks reviews the Arena Stage’s ‘Light in the Piazza'”Washington Post, March 15, 2010
- Hickling, Alan.‘The Light in the Piazza’ review”,The Guardian, May 7, 2009
- Jones, Chris.‘An intimate ‘Light’ shines in Rogers Park”,Chicago Tribune, May 7, 2009
- Weiss, Hedy.‘Light in the Piazza’ glistens at Theo Ubique”,Chicago Sun-Times, March 3, 2012
- McPhee, Ryan and Gans, Andrew. “Renée Fleming and Dove Cameron to Star in ‘The Light in the Piazza’ in London” Playbill, November 9, 2018
- Sommer, Elyse. “A CurtainUp Review Light In the Piazza”, curtainup.com, April 20, 2005
- Feingold, Michael. “Passione All’Americana”, Village Voice, April 12, 2005
- Simon, John. “Everything is Illuminated”, New York Magazine, April 25, 2005
- Brantley, Ben. “A Wise Autumnal American in Florence”, New York Times, April 19, 2005
- The Light in the Piazza at the Internet Broadway Database
- Official homepage
- Interview from Studio 360 radio program
- The Light in the Piazza – Guide to Musical Theatre