The Light in the Piazza
Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed – 18th June 2019
“Guettel’s score is drenched in a lush, autumnal style, with orchestrations that are truly gorgeous”
The Light in the Piazza lands in its London premiere with a level of prestige – it scooped up no less than six Tony Awards during its Broadway run in 2005. While the musical consequently carries with it an inherent air of quality, it also finds itself emblematic of the genre as a whole, as it glosses over and romanticises subject matter which deserves a little more nuance.
Based on the 1960 novel by Elizabeth Spencer (which was also released as a film two years later), The Light in the Piazza follows the journey of Margaret Johnson (Renée Fleming), whose developmentally disabled daughter Clara (Dove Cameron) falls in love while the pair are on holiday in Florence with Fabrizio Naccarelli (Rob Houchen). Margaret grapples with letting go of her child and allowing her to live independently with Fabrizio, although in doing so she never fully discloses the nature of Clara’s disability to the Naccarelli family; it’s a decision that comes with huge ethical implications and ramifications, albeit ones that the show seems quite happy to ignore.
Adam Guettel’s score is drenched in a lush, autumnal style, with orchestrations that are truly gorgeous, and Kimberly Grigsby’s conducting makes the music feel like it fully lives and breathes with the characters and the story. Despite that the style starts to feel somewhat overfamiliar in the latter half the show, there are still a variety of hugely enjoyable numbers, such as Say It Somehow and Let’s Walk. Guettel’s lyrics and Craig Lucas’ libretto are full of quirks, wit, and humanity, but neither feel like they genuinely facilitate any true depth to the themes or characters. Despite this, there are some excellent performances on display in Piazza, particularly Fleming as Margaret, who keeps guilt and uncertainty bubbling underneath a frothy exterior, and Alex Jennings as Signor Naccarelli, whose charm and self-assuredness beautifully counterbalances the more melodramatic facets of the other characters. Every single member of the cast delivers immaculate vocals, and Robert Jones’ scenic design and Mark Henderson’s lighting harmoniously provide some stunning aesthetics. Piazza is undoubtedly a visual and aural treat.
However, the substance simply isn’t there to support it. Understanding and misunderstanding are prominent themes in Piazza – the Johnsons don’t speak great Italian and the Naccarellis don’t speak great English so their meanings aren’t always perfectly conveyed to each other, and some scenes and songs are entirely in Italian, so that the audience have to rely on the visual storytelling alone (which, thanks to Daniel Evans’ direction, is stellar). It suggests that the love between Clara and Fabrizio transcends barriers such as language or disability, but the fact that Fabrizio falls so swiftly for a woman with the mental and emotional capacities of a twelve-year-old draws allusions to the seedy over-sexualisation of young girls in society, and the fact that Fabrizio isn’t made aware of long-term effects that the disability will have on the relationship makes the romance feel unearned and untrue. And unfortunately, Piazza hinges itself on the romance.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Dewynters
The Light in the Piazza
Royal Festival Hall until 5th July
Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
Ben Forster will extend his run as ‘The Phantom’ until Saturday 2 September in the smash hit Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA”. Now in its 31st year at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End, the show also stars Celinde Schoenmaker as ‘Christine Daae’ and Nadim Naaman as ‘Raoul’.
They are joined by Siôn Lloyd as ‘Monsieur Firmin’; Mark Oxtoby as ‘Monsieur Andre’; Paul Ettore Tabone as ‘Piangi’ and Daisy Hulbert as ‘Meg’. Also continuing their roles are: Lara Martins as ‘Carlotta’ and Jacinta Mulcahy as ‘Madame Giry’ and Harriet Jones as alternate ‘Christine Daaé’.
Ben Forster is probably best known for winning the ITV1 show, ‘Superstar’ – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV talent search for ‘Jesus’ in “Jesus Christ Superstar”. His other theatre credits include: ‘Buddy’ in “Elf The Musical” and ‘Magaldi’ in “Evita” both at the Dominion Theatre.
Celinde Schoenmaker has played the role of ‘Fantine’ in “Les Misérables” at The Queen’s Theatre, having made her West End debut in 2013. Previously she played ‘Jenny’ in a production of “Love Story” which toured Holland.
Nadim Naaman most recently appeared as ‘Charles Clarke’ in “Titanic” at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. His London theatre credits include ‘Anthony Hope’ in “Sweeney Todd” at Harrington’s Pie & Mash Shop; “One Man, Two Guvnors” at The National Theatre and Theatre Royal Haymarket and “The Sound of Music” at the London Palladium.
Siôn Lloyd most recently appeared in “Titanic” at the Charing Cross Theatre. His other recent theatre credits include: “The Bodyguard” on tour; “The Pajama Game” at the Shaftesbury Theatre; “Avenue Q” at the Noel Coward Theatre and “The Full Monty” at the Noel Coward Theatre and UK tour.
Mark Oxtoby most recently appeared in “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. His other theatre credits include: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Adelphi Theatre; “A Model Girl” at the Greenwich Theatre; “Brighton Rock” at the Almeida Theatre and “Oh, What a Lovely War!” at the National Theatre.
Paul Ettore Tabone’s previous theatre credits include “Love Never Dies” in Melbourne, Sydney and at the Hamburg Stage Operettenhaus. In 2013 Paul was accepted as a ‘Young Artist’ in the prestigious Luciano Pavarotti Foundation of Modena; performing with Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli at the Arena in Verona, Italy. He made his professional operatic debut in 2014 in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at the Opera Națională Bucureşti.
Daisy Hulbert made her West End debut in the corps de ballet in “The Phantom of the Opera”. Previously as a company member of the National Moravian-Silesian Ballet in the Czech Republic she performed in “The Nutcracker”, “Swan Lake” and “Snow White”.
Lara Martins has appeared in many operas around the world. Her credits include ‘Queen of the Night’ in “The Magic Flute”, ‘Susanna’ in “The Marriage of Figaro” and ‘Despina’ in “Cosi fan Tutte”.
Jacinta Mulcahy’s previous theatre credits include playing ‘Baroness’ in the national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and David Ian’s production of “The Sound of Music”. Her other theatre credits include ‘Cosette’ in “Les Misérables” in the West End.
Harriet Jones returns to “The Phantom of the Opera” having made her West End debut as ‘Christine Daaé’ in 2013. Her opera credits include: ‘Flora’ in “Turn of the Screw” at Grimeborn Opera Festival, ‘Zerlina’ in Woodhouse Opera’s “Don Giovanni” and Classic FM’s 20th Birthday Celebration concert. She has recently finished filming the role of ‘The Queen’ in the new Disney film of “Beauty and the Beast.”
Continuing until 2 September the full cast is: Matt Blaker; Bridget Costello; Maria Coyne; Scott Davies; Hadrian Delacey; Morven Douglas; Ben Forster; Lyndsey Gardiner; Lori Gilchrist; Ryan Goscinski; Philip Griffiths; Hettie Hobbs; Lily Howes; Daisy Hulbert; Ellen Jackson; Harriet Jones; Richard Kent; Tim Laurenti; Adam Robert Lewis; Siôn Lloyd; Lara Martins; Luke McCall; Leo Miles; Fiona Morley; Tim Morgan; Paul Morrissey; Jacinta Mulcahy; Nadim Naaman; Mark Oxtoby; Danielle Pullum; James Roxby-Brown; Celinde Schoenmaker; Tom Sterling; Joanna Strand; Paul Ettore Tabone; Claire Tilling, Charlotte Vaughan; Victoria Ward and Georgia Ware
“THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” became the longest running show in Broadway history on 9 January 2006 when it celebrated its 7,486th performance, surpassing the previous record holder “Cats”. This coincided with the Broadway company and the US national touring company celebrating an unprecedented 20,000 performances in the United States. On 26 January 2013 the Broadway production celebrated an amazing 25 years on Broadway. In October 2011 the London production celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a spectacular staging of “The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall” which was screened live in cinemas all over the world and subsequently released on DVD and in August 2015 the show celebrated 12,000 performances in the West End. On 9 October 2016 the London production celebrated 30 years in the West End with a very special charity gala performance in aid of The Music in Secondary Schools Trust. To celebrate this milestone, the current stellar cast were joined onstage by members of the original company and special guests for a spectacular finale. Footage from the evening including red carpet arrivals, interviews and the finale itself was streamed live on Facebook, gaining over 1 million views and reaching a global audience of 5 million people.
“THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” has won over 70 major theatre awards, including seven Tony’s on Broadway and three Olivier Awards in the West End. It most recently won the ‘Magic Radio Audience Award’, voted by the public, in the 2016 Laurence Olivier Awards. “THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA”, which opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 9 October 1986 starred Michael Crawford as ‘The Phantom’ and Sarah Brightman as ‘Christine.’ It is produced by Cameron Mackintosh and The Really Useful Theatre Company Limited.
“THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” became the first stage production to reach worldwide grosses of $6 billion, which it did last summer. Revenues far surpass the world’s highest-grossing film “Avatar” (at $2.8 billion), as well as such other blockbusters as “Titanic”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars”. Worldwide, a staggering 140 million people have seen “THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” in 35 countries and 160 cities in 15 languages.
“THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” is currently showing in London, New York, Budapest, Stockholm and on tour in the US.
Production photography – Johan Persson
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Mondays to Saturdays at 7.30pm
Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Tickets are priced from £23.00 – £72.50
0844 412 2707