Arts & Life
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This article was published 12/5/2010 (3743 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While Adam Guettel was impatiently waiting to fall in love, the American composer/lyricist bided his time by penning the lushly romantic stage musical The Light in the Piazza.
"I wanted to write a love story because I hadn't found love when I wrote it and needed the vessel to pour all that energy into," Guettel, 45, has often explained. "The goal is to make the audience feel they're in love, or desperately want to be in love."
Although The Light in the Piazza didn't get him a single date, the theatre world was immediately smitten with Guettel (pronounced GET-el), whom Time magazine crowned as "the most provocative and promising of post-Sondheim theatrical songwriters." That's not unexpected, as he is the scion of musical theatre royalty -- his mother is composer Mary Rodgers (Once Upon a Mattress) and grandfather is the legendary music man Richard Rodgers (Oklahoma, South Pacific and The Sound of Music). Guettel even has a Winnipeg connection -- his father Henry was company manager at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in the SSRq50s.
Tony Award voters showed Guettel some love, too, with six awards in 2005, although Light in the Piazza lost best musical to Spamalot.
Winnipeg's Dry Cold Productions is the second company in Canada (following one in Toronto last February) to land the production rights to the period piece that celebrates flowering, impetuous romance. The Light in the Piazza opens a three-performance run Friday at the Canwest Performing Arts Centre at the Forks.
"The music is almost operatic," says Samantha Hill, one of the show's young stars. "It has opera's grandeur with the relatability of musical theatre. It's so difficult but so beautiful."
The Light in the Piazza follows Margaret, a middle-aged American woman, to Italy, where she is holidaying with her intellectually challenged adult daughter, Clara. In Florence, Clara meets a handsome 20-year-old local named Fabrizio and it is love at first sight in the piazza.
When talk turns to marriage, Margaret grows protective of her child, who looks like a beautiful woman but has the innocent mind of a 12-year-old. Margaret wrestles with whether to confess Clara's limitations to Fabrizio and his family.
Hill -- a 22-year-old Winnipeg soprano in her second year of a fine arts program at the University of Alberta -- has been paired by director Donna Fletcher with Aaron Hutton-- a 21-year-old tenor who is studying vocal performance at the University of Manitoba -- as the youthful lovers in 1953. It's not a time either performer is particularly familiar with -- nor do they know the movie icons of the era who are mentioned in the script.
During a joint interview, Hutton talks about how Fabrizio thinks he needs to be like Hollywood film star Van Johnson to woo Clara, but asks Hill to remind him of Johnson's first name. Hill tells him it's Van, but comes clean that she had to Google Johnson, too, to find out who he was.
"We did know who Fred Astaire was," says Hill, smiling sheepishly.
Fletcher prepped her fresh-faced stars to get in touch with their own memories of first infatuation.
Hutton, who made his Rainbow Stage debut as Rolf in the 2007 production of The Sound of Music, remembers the time he connected with a girl on a picnic date.
"It felt amazing," he recalls. "You want to live in that feeling forever. It feels good to reconnect with those intense romantic memories."
Hill, who portrayed Belle in Rainbow's Beauty and the Beast last summer and the sexy temptress Carla in Dry Cold's Nine in 2007, chimes in, "I remember the first time I was in love, feeling I could marry this person after a month together. Your heart just aches when they are not around. It sounds cheesy but it's true."
Do you need to fall in love with your onstage paramour to be convincing to audiences?
"I think you do," says Fletcher, a veteran stage musical actress "A lot of the guys I worked with became very good friends and I think that's why. You have to find something about that person to fall in love with. If you don't it's not believable."
The actors agree that chemistry is important and needs to be developed quickly in a short rehearsal period, but they think its enough to make their personal friendship the basis of their stage courtship.
"We did talk about setting boundaries, that if have to kiss in this scene, 'Are you comfortable to do this?" says Hill. "It's acting. There is no worry about it overlapping into real life.
"First love can seem epic. You don't need to push the romance."
1960 -- Elizabeth Spencer's novella The Light in the Piazza is published.
1962 -- Film version debuts, starring Olivia de Havilland as Meg, Yvette Mimieux as Clara and George Hamilton as Fabrizio.
1998 -- Guettel's mother, Mary Rodgers, offers him a copy of the book, suggesting it might make a good musical.
2003 -- Premières at Seattle's Intimant Theater.
2005 -- Opens at the Lincoln Center, picks up 11 Tony Award nominations, winning six.
2006 -- Closes after 504 performances and launches a national tour.
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