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A lovely, old-fashioned celebration of love

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/5/2010 (3665 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Samantha Hill and Aaron Hutton bring young love to radiant life in gentle musical.

GARY BARRINGER PHOTO

Samantha Hill and Aaron Hutton bring young love to radiant life in gentle musical.

Florence is renowned for the golden quality of its sunshine and the extraordinary clarity with which it bathes the Tuscan capital's Renaissance treasures.

In the unabashedly romantic chamber musical The Light in the Piazza, an American matron named Margaret in 1953 escapes her dying marriage back home by holidaying in Italy with her free-spirited daughter Clara in the hopes of recapturing the passion she and her husband enjoyed on their pre-war honeymoon.

Dressed in frumpy, dark clothes, Margaret hauls the resplendent Clara to see Michelangelo's statute of David, but the beautiful 26-year-old, who has the mind and emotional maturity of an adolescent, is hot for her own David in the flesh. When her windblown hat is caught by Fabrizio, a young Italian man, the two are instantly besotted.

The simple show and gentle telling of The Light in the Piazza stands out from the jukebox musicals with their throbbing rock scores and the special-effects-laden extravaganzas that dominate modern Broadway.

Up-and-coming American composer Adam Guettel and book-writer Craig Lucas celebrate the marvel of love with an absorbing tale that tangles Romeo and Juliet with the 2002 movie I Am Sam, the story of a man possessed of the intellect of a seven-year-old and a capacious heart.

In its ninth season with a mandate to produce overlooked musicals, Dry Cold Productions has snapped up a relatively new, cult work that savours its old-fashioned virtues, with Guettel's swooning melodies and overcooked dramatic moments that soar to operatic heights. Based on the novella by American Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza shows wide appeal in how it pits the optimism of youth against the disappointment of middle age.

As Clara and her Florentine suitor Fabrizio, Winnipeg student actors Samantha Hill and Aaron Hutton make you fall in love with first love all over again. Hill is especially radiant in voice and presence, capturing all of her character's giddy exuberance and rapture, temper and terror. Hutton is also convincing as a boy/man coming of age, desperate to make more of love than his philandering older brother Giuseppe, who inherited a roving eye from his father, Senor Nacarelli.

The pivotal force in the well-sung 135-minute show at the Canwest Performing Arts Centre is Margaret, a role that gives Winnipeg's Melanie Whyte a rare occasion in the spotlight. She nicely captures tightly wound Margaret's sadness in Dividing Day, the musical lament for her failed marriage. Any parent will identify with her protectiveness and her hesitance to inform Fabrizio and his family about Clara's limitations.

Although Dry Cold favours modest production values, The Light in the Piazza looks good, with a simple Brian Perchaluk set dominated by movable pillars and Scott Henderson's warm lighting. Director Donna Fletcher displays a light touch, especially during Aiutami, a comic number about a Nacarelli family meltdown. Among the supporting cast, Naomi Forman creates some strong moments as Giuseppe's spitfire wife Franca, most notably with her cautionary song to Clara, The Joy You Feel. Steven Ratzlaff bring appealing Old World culture and charm to Fabrizio's father.

In the end, Margaret sees the light and the world through the eyes of Clara (whose name means light), urging her to "love if you can and be loved."

 

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

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