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The Light in the Piazza
★★★

Royal Festival Hall

The Light in the Piazza

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

 

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The Light in the Piazza

Royal Festival Hall until 5th July

 

Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
The Bay At Nice | ★★½ | Menier Chocolate Factory | March 2019
Waitress | ★★★★ | Adelphi Theatre | March 2019
Creditors | ★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | April 2019
Miss Julie | ★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | April 2019
Mortgage | ★★★ | Tristan Bates Theatre | April 2019
Coral Browne: This F***Ing Lady! | ★★ | King’s Head Theatre | May 2019
Delicacy | ★★★½ | The Space | May 2019
Orpheus Descending  | ★★★★ | Menier Chocolate Factory | May 2019
Regen | ★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | May 2019
Afterglow | ★★★½ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Violet

Violet
★★★

Charing Cross Theatre

Violet

Violet

Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed – 21st January 2019

★★★

 

“enjoyable at times but requires more attentive storytelling”

 

A competent and confident cast just about save this somewhat tepid yet redemptive road-trip musical. Jeanine Tesori’s Southern States inspired score, expertly mixing country, blues rock ‘n’ roll and gospel influences, is ultimately let down by a middling script and unfocused lyrics.

Violet (Kaisa Hammarlund) sets out on a Greyhound bus from backwoods Spruce Pine, North Carolina, to Tulsa, hoping to get her facial scar ‘healed’ by a well-known tele-preacher (Kenneth Avery-Clark). An accident with a loose axe head in childhood left Violet both physically and emotionally scarred, meaning relationships formed along the way with soldiers Monty (Matthew Harvey) and Flick (Jay Marsh) are fraught and conflicted. We can all guess where the story goes from here.

Sadly, it is Violet’s story that brings this production down. Despite being just over twenty years old, the gender politics of this musical feel dated and discomforting. Beauty is found, of course, within – but also with a little help from a heterosexual male telling you you’re beautiful. Violet’s experiences of rejection are compared with Flick’s as a racially segregated black male. Furthermore, we never quite get a chance to learn why we should care about Violet’s story. We haven’t learnt anything new about impossible standards of beauty, nor about mid-sixties American culture. Why revive this now?

The musical numbers are varied and enjoyable, but forgettable. “Raise Me Up”, a heartfelt gospel tune belted out by Lula (Simbi Akande), stands out, and yet even this is immediately reduced to a gag about Clark’s preacher’s incorrigibly fake routine. Shuntaro Fujita’s direction is often awkward, with actors left at times to simply stand and sing at each other. Fujita does manage to blend Violet’s childhood memories into the present-day action well. These moments, in fact, prove some of the most effective parts of the production, giving Violet’s beleaguered character some crucial context.

Despite reuniting some of the artistic talent behind last year’s outstanding ‘Fun Home’, this musical lacks the emotional turbulence, coherence and charm of that production. ‘Violet’ is certainly enjoyable at times but requires more attentive storytelling and better lyrics if it wishes to set its sights on the West End.

 

Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Violet

Charing Cross Theatre until 6th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Harold and Maude | ★★★★ | February 2018
It Happened in Key West | ★★ | July 2018
Mythic | ★★★★ | October 2018

 

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