The Light in the Piazza: An Incredible Italian Excursion
Plenty of justifications exist to explain why many people, truthfully, do not feel untethered emotions. Perhaps a burning spirit is placated by reason or a joyful soul is scarred by time.
In The Light in the Piazza, the Tony Award-winning musical, Margaret Johnson arrives with her twenty-six-year-old daughter, Clara, on the streets of 1950s Florence, Italy, for a summer abroad. Clara has a developmental disability, and despite being an adult, she is emotionally immature, leaving Margaret to fear she is incapable of marriage. However, the relationship her daughter develops with an Italian suitor, Fabrizio, and his family makes Margaret question her role in Clara’s life—and her own marriage.
Directed by Baylor University’s Dr. Jen Stephenson, The Light in the Piazza is Waco Civic Theatre’s latest production. Following its opening last weekend, the show concludes this week with performances from Thursday, September 29, through Sunday, October 2.
Scusa, Cos Hai Detto?
The Light in the Piazza first premiered in 2003 in Seattle and subsequently opened on Broadway in 2005, where it won, among other awards, the Tony for Best Original Score. Craig Lucas wrote the script, and Adam Guettel, the grandson of renowned Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, wrote the music and lyrics. It features an eight-person cast, with each role requiring performers to sing operatically. Most of the cast, save Margaret, must also be capable of performing in Italian. Audiences become aware of each character’s complexity as they navigate a sea of emotions in the musical’s songs.
And while the Italian lyrics will likely be unfamiliar to audiences, Stephenson said this only adds to the experience: “Part of the show is about not understanding what’s happening and becoming okay with that—not just through language but in life. We don’t always know what’s happening, so part of it is designed for people to feel what it is like for Margaret.”
Emotions, however, can transcend language. When Fabrizio Naccarelli (Davian Raggio) first meets Clara (Anna Poe), he can speak but a few phrases in English. Despite his fractured sentences, though, there is never a doubt from either Margaret (Kelly MacGregor) or the audience that he is smitten with Clara.
Stephenson reflected on how even scenes spoken in English, such as a phone conversation between Margaret and her husband, Roy, illustrate talking at cross-purposes: “[Roy’s] in America, and they have a dialogue about how they can’t connect while talking on the phone. [Words like:] ‘I don’t understand you.’ ‘Well, there’s a delay.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘What did you say?’ They’re just completely missing each other.”
This confusion sets up Margaret to then express a powerful moment of introspection through the song “Dividing Day,” as the audience discovers that she is no longer in love with her husband.
And beyond that, Margaret must accept—and ultimately embrace—the fact Fabrizio and Clara are going to marry. About MacGregor, who plays Margaret, Stephenson said: “A mother of two teenage boys, she very clearly understands what it’s like to have these people that are of you, but not you. How you’re responsible for them, and you love them, and they are bewildering and surprising. You want to protect them, you want them to leave the nest, but you don’t.”
Did That Statue Just Blink?
As the play progresses and the love between Clara and Fabrizio blossoms, more and more of Florence is revealed to the audience. The Naccarelli family holds great pride in their city’s history, and Margaret deeply cherishes the memory of traveling there with her husband, Roy. Enhancing the audience’s connection to the setting, the theatre-in-the-round creates an enveloping sense of immersion. The stage floor evokes the centuries-old elegant tiling found across the city. Props are hand painted to impressively mimic the coloring of marble stones. Center stage is a focal point for both movement and sound for the surrounding audience.
Stephenson worked hard to ensure that when actors are onstage there is always something interesting to see. And with seats on all sides of the stage, each perspective provides a new and equally engaging view of the action. Of particular pride to her is the design of the museum scene during the first act. She said, “I love our statues… It’s in the [Uffizi], and rather than make statues out of foam, we have some actors standing on marble stands, painted by Micha Key.”
While each element of this production of The Light in the Piazza is well done, the sum is even greater than the whole of its parts. After seeing it last weekend, Creative Waco Executive Director Fiona Bond said, “It’s a fresh and emotionally vibrant piece of musical theatre. Every character is interesting, complex, and superbly portrayed. The costumes and design are gorgeous, and the theatre-in-the-round presentation is both intimate and captivating. I laughed, cried, and saw those around me similarly transfixed. This is not your typical rom-com musical. It’s so much more and still has me thinking and enjoying the experience days later.”
What’s Next for Waco Civic Theatre? The Answer is in the Stars
Waco Civic Theatre has three more shows scheduled for its main stage in 2022. Next up is Silent Sky, about astronomer Henrietta Leavitt and her time in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University in 1900. Its two weekends of performances begin on October 28 and conclude on November 6. After that are two Christmas shows debuting in December: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever from December 1–4 and The Most Wonderful Show of the Year from December 15–18.
The Light in the Piazza finishes its run at Waco Civic Theatre (1517 Lake Air Drive) with performances from Thursday, September 29, through Sunday, October 2. The Thursday through Saturday shows begin at 7:30 pm, and the final performance on Sunday is a 2:30 pm matinee.
Tickets are $25 for adults and $22 for students, seniors, and military members.
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