Musical theatre fans across the UK should book their train tickets to Leicester quick. The six-time, Tony Award-winning 2005 Broadway musical finally receives its European premiere here, finding a welcoming and comfortable home at the recently opened state-of-the-art Curve.
The Light in the Piazza - which has music and lyrics by Adam Guettel (spiritual son of Stephen Sondheim and actual grandson of Richard Rodgers no less) and book by Craig Lucas - is a story of love, of naïve passion, of fading unity and of retrospective regret.
Set predominantly in Florence during the summer of 1953, it relates the meeting of Clara (Caroline Sheen), a young American tourist on vacation with her doting, protective mother Margaret (Lucy Schaufer) and Fabrizio (Matt Rawle), a dashing Florentine youth exuding passion, enthusiasm and spontaneity. It’s a mutual love at first sight, blind to all and any difficulties that life and fate conspire to inflict.
On first appearance, George Souglides’ set looks like it’s going to be cumbersome and overbearing, swamping the stage with too much white, but this fear is quickly dispelled. Instead, the set glides silently and effortlessly, taking the audience on a tour of Florence (and a brief foray into Rome), weaving the scenes together, contributing to the movement of the tourists and the pace of the cities, and yet firmly grounding every scene where it is supposed to be. The set is complemented beautifully by Giuseppe di Iorio’s lighting, a key element in the recreation of the light and shades of Florence, and vital to a production with this title.
If any director wishes for a perfect cast, Paul Kerryson is granted one. Not only does he have wonderful singers with extensive ranges and clarity of diction, but he also has superb, expressive actors wrapped up in the same package. The sound and vocal quality is everything that it should be. There is a perfect mix of lyrics, in English to convey the story, and in Italian to evoke the operatic passion of the Latin temperament and location. The audience is in no doubt that it is touring 1950s Italy with a couple of Americans. From the moment each and every cast member steps onto the stage, and for the duration of their performance, their individual characters shine through.
In the central performances, Caroline Sheen and Matt Rawle are vibrant and energetic, conveying a world where two intertwined souls and the passion of youth is everything. The production’s pinnacle is Lucy Schaufer’s commanding, but not overshadowing, performance. She has an outstanding vocal range and power, and every gesture and nuance combines to express everything that Margaret was, and is, and aspires to achieve.
In supporting roles, the frustrated wrangling between Fabrizio’s brother Giuseppe (George Couyas) and his cuckolded wife Franca (Eliza Lumley) is palpable. Equally apparent is the life that Signora Naccarelli (Jasna Ivir) leads, living with her husband’s flirtatious behaviour with a tacit curiosity and acceptance. All round, this is a Light that shines bright in Leicester.