“The Light in the Piazza,” an NAU Lyric Theater spring production set in 1950s Italy, is a light-hearted and lively musical that also tackles difficult topics. The characters of the musical navigate love, family drama, disability and language barriers as the story switches between Italian and English.
Todd Sullivan, director of the School of Music, praised the NAU production of the musical describing it as a slow-paced story.
“This is a beautiful production,” Sullivan said. “The revelations are surprising, shocking maybe in a lot of ways, but in the end innocence and love prevail.”
Director of NAU Lyric Theater Eric Gibson noted the emotional intensity of the musical, particularly regarding the relationship between main characters Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara Johnson. He said the story was told beautifully.
"I think the story is tough for women to watch because I think mother-daughter relationships can be difficult,” Gibson said. “It’s a difficult mother-daughter relationship, very difficult. A lot of guilt, and of course we see [Margaret’s] marriage break apart in the middle of the show.”
Sullivan compared the NAU production of “The Light in the Piazza,” for which the music and lyrics were created by Adam Guettel, with the 1962 movie version of the story. He said the transformation is amazing and praises Adam Guettel's musical for capturing the time and place in a contemporary form.
"That doesn’t happen often, to take one art form and transform it into another and get the feeling they really belong in both of those worlds," Sullivan said. "The essential drama, which is the freedom, the beauty of the young woman and then to discover her story over time works really comparable in both pieces.”
Gibson said he thought it took until the end of Act I of the musical for the opening night audience members to warm up to the show.
“I think with anything that is kind of introspective and kind of quiet, an audience has to warm up to it because they don’t know what to expect,” Gibson said. “I think this is a different kind of musical comedy, musical theater piece.”
Gibson explains the uniqueness of the comedy is that it has a very serious undertone. He acknowledged the value “The Light in the Piazza” has for audience members and explained why the majority of those in the audience gave a standing ovation at the end of the performance.
Gibson said there are many situations or topics in the musical that may hit home for a lot of audience members. He added that the musical even personally affected him.
“But that’s what makes people connect to things,” Gibson said. “That’s why they were on their feet when it was over because it just pushes a lot of sensitive buttons, that’s why we go to the theater, it makes us feel.”
Junior Mary Kray, who plays Margaret Johnson in the Thursday and Saturday showings, and freshman Eliza Rose Faigel, who plays Clara Johnson on the same days, appreciate that the musical is multifaceted.
Kray points out that the musical covers topics such as mental illness, motherhood, loneliness, going to another country and falling in love with someone who doesn’t speak the same language.
“It goes very deep,” Kray said. It’s not a typical love story. I do appreciate it for not being the generic musical love story.”
Faigel said she believes the complexity of “The Light in the Piazza” brings something of value to everyone in the audience.
“When you watch it, it’s like, ‘Oh, I identify with that' because there are so many elements to it but it all fits together,” Faigel said. “It’s an amazing show.”
The opportunity for audience identification with the characters or situations within “The Light in the Piazza” makes it an easy musical to enjoy and remember.
“I think it’s a very approachable performance and production and I think campus-wide, it would be a great opportunity for people to see what students in the School of Music do,” Sullivan said.
“The Light in the Piazza” will be showing again at Ardrey Memorial Auditorium April 6 at 7:30 p.m. and April 7 at 2:30 p.m.