In an unforgettable night of glorious music, The Light in the Piazza 10th Anniversary Reunion Concert reassembled the original cast of one of Broadway’s most cherished musicals.
The 2004-2005 Broadway season was a special one, producing four Best Musical Tony Award nominees that were all hits in their own right. The Light in the Piazza won six Tony Awards, including Best Actress (Victoria Clark) and Best Score (Adam Guettel).
The new musical was the first project directed by Bartlett Sher at Lincoln Center, and led to subsequent productions of South Pacific and The King and I for Sher and his Tony-winning collaborators Michael Yeargen (scenic design) and Catherine Zuber (costume design). In the program for the current Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, Sheldon Harnick traces Sher’s involvement back to The Light in The Piazza. Sher is now Resident Director at Lincoln Center.
Abundantly overflowing with magical moments and memorable melodies, The Light in the Piazza is remembered with great fondness by all who saw it. For what seemed a chamber musical, Yeargen’s scenic design for the original staging was surprisingly grand in scope. Stripped of this spectacle, the piece works beautifully well as a concert presentation, allowing an even more intimate examination of the sharply drawn characters whose lives intertwined one fateful summer in 1953 Florence.
As concerts go, this was a generous, carefully prepared performance. Under Sher’s direction, the cast moved about and interacted on the large stage space in front of their chairs. Scripts were occasionally referred to in book scenes, but all performers knew their music by heart. The result was as thorough and lively a performance as one could possibly hope to see.
The rich, lavish set of The King and I gave the concert a glamorous setting to complement the special occasion.
Hearing Guettel’s exquisite score played by a 24-piece orchestra on stage was a real luxury. Original music director Ted Sperling conducted the performance.
Looking like they have been drinking exclusively from the fountain of youth, the cast looked and sounded fabulous. Even the original ensemble members returned, and although they were not given quite as much to do, they performed with flair and beamed with pride at being part of the special event.
Dressed in a chic red satin cocktail dress (that brought to mind her original costume), Victoria Clark revisited the compelling journey of protective, conservative mother Margaret Johnson, who examines her own life and marriage while gradually loosening the tight reins she has placed on her special daughter. Clark still had the audience in the palm of her hand with those special glances and asides that take us into Margaret’s confidence. Each of her big songs sounded glorious, with 11 o’clock number “Fable” remaining the jewel in the crown.
Winning her first Tony Award last year (on her sixth nomination), Kelli O’Hara is Broadway’s reigning leading lady, currently playing Anna Leonowens on this stage. Retaining a sweet, fresh appearance, O’Hara still looks younger than 26 as Clara Johnson, and her singing is divine. Soaring ballad “The Light in the Piazza,” heard early in act two, absolutely brought the house down.
Matthew Morrison is also still convincing as a love-struck youth, and his singing voice sounds richer and more confident than ever. Morrison is a charismatic, engaging performer, and he delivered his full complement of charm at this concert. Calming Clara down before the wedding, Morrison’s delivery of Fabrizio’s “Love to Me” is a heaven-sent lullaby.
Hearing all the Italian language again, and noting the absence of surtitles, one is reminded of what a leap of faith the authors took by treating the audience’s intelligence with all too rarely seen respect.
A little age brought Mark Harelik even more patriarchal authority as Signor Naccarelli, Fabrizio’s father. Patti Cohenour delighted again with the moment Signora Naccarelli breaks her silence and addresses the audience in English.
Michael Berresse recaptured the fancy footwork of womanising husband Giuseppe Naccarelli. Looking a million dollars in a canary yellow short lace dress, Sarah Uriarte Berry conveyed the fiery passion of Franca Naccarelli, Giuseppe’s unjustly neglected wife.
Everyone involved in the concert and those who work at Lincoln Center have the audience’s undying gratitude for this wonderful evening.
The Light in the Piazza 10th Anniversary Reunion Concert was held 6.30pm Monday 4 April 2016 at Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York.
Photos: Simon Parris