Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre students have taken on a difficult assignment, that is to make the best out of playwright Craig Lucas and songwriter Adam Guettell’s musical The Light in the Piazza. This multi-Tony award winner has a fragile, almost elemental story enhanced by some beautiful melodic writing, especially for multiple voices. The cast does exceptionally well with the singing, but neither some major performers nor director Scott Wise have overcome the problems inherent in the script, the characters or the staging in such a small space as the Rauh Theater.
Most of this takes place in Florence Italy in 1953 when Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara are visiting as tourists. 20 year old Italian Fabrizio Naccarelli instantly falls in love with Clara. And she falls in love with him. Margaret tries to break up the relationship fearing that Clara is not mature enough to handle it, because 26 year old Clara had an accident years before which has impeded her mental and emotional development. Fabrizio’s father is likewise against the relationship learning that Clara is older than she looks and behaves.He seems to get over the problem quickly though. Thus questionable premises dominate what happens, although they may have been accepted in the less sophisticated time of 1953, even though the musical is from 2003. There is also a potential interesting sub-plot regarding the emotional and physical distance between Clara’s father and Margaret which could have been better developed but here feels marginal. i.e the story needs help. And the choreography looks patent, especially in this space.
Making the characters genuine in The Light in the Piazza remains a problem among such student performers but Katie Sexton always looks and sounds right as Margaret and many people in the company do very well in the constant Italian dialogue. Courtney Bassett sings with a touching and beautiful voice as Clara but doesn’t appear capable of conveying Clara’s complex and fractured personality. Jaron Frand’s version of Fabrizio works rather well, although he doesn’t seem sufficiently immature. And as Fabrizio’s father, Adam Soniak looks completely wrong for the part.
Guettell’s score gets fine rendering by an on-stage string-based quintet led from the piano by Camille Rolla whose visible, constantly bobbing head could be a major distraction for much of the audience. Director Wise should have placed her somewhere less in view, perhaps facing the cast, which, as is often the case in musicals, could see the music director’s cues.
Considering that this show won many Tony Awards you have to credit the original cast and director for doing it so well and acknowledge that students may have a difficult time equaling such high standards.
The Light in the Piazza continues only through next Saturday at Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland. 412/621-4445- www.pittsburghplayhouse.com