“The Light in the Piazza” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ February 25, 2010


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

“The Light in the Piazza” is a delicate romantic musical that deals sensitively with an emotionally and developmentally challenged young woman who discovers love for the first time. The lovely Phoenix Theatre production, like many of their recent musicals, equals and occasionally betters the stunning Broadway original.

Phoenix Theatre is the Valley’s best musical theater producer no matter what show they mount. Superb direction uncovers unopened windows of plot insight and character detail often not found in original Broadway productions. Large casts, featuring the best local talent complimented by wonderful imported performers, create revealing characterizations. Lovely sets are choreographed to shift effortlessly even though Phoenix Theatre doesn’t possess the latest technical theater marvels. Artful costuming helps audiences better understand characters. Sensitive lighting emphasizes emotion and place. Small orchestras create exquisite sounds as the singers navigate beautifully through various musical styles. Finally, Phoenix Theatre’s impeccable sound reinforcement, the best of any Valley theater, makes every word understood while sounding natural. Phoenix Theatre has mastered musicals.

“The Light in the Piazza” is based on a novel and film. It looks at an Italian trip Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara take to recreate Margaret’s initial journey years before with Clara’s father. As a child, Clara was hurt by a horse at her 12th birthday party causing Clara to be slow. She’s 26 for this 1953 trip as she discovers her sexuality. Margaret has sheltered Clara because she felt responsible for the accident. As Clara tires of sightseeing, she meets Fabrizio, a dashing young Italian, and falls in love. This development challenges Margaret to let Clara go. Margaret also realizes the void caused by her loveless marriage.

Craig Lucas’ book makes the tale tender and touching. Adam Guettel, Richard Rodgers’ grandson and Mary Rodgers’ son, crafts an ethereally beautiful score that takes subtle cues from his grandfather’s and mother’s many musicals. The songs advance the story by providing remarkable insight into what these complex characters are thinking and their reactions to events.

Director Karla Koskinen uses Phoenix Theatre’s intimacy to make “The Light in the Piazza” gripping while opening this tale up emotionally. The cast couldn’t be better including Jeannie Shubitz’s insightful Margaret, Kaitlynn Kleinman who uses her delicate beauty to create a moving Clara, and Nick Cartel who displays a soaringly rich voice and exquisite Italian to make a wonderful Fabrizio. Other stellar performances come from Fabrizio’s family including Doug Webster as his all-knowing father, Teressa Byrne’s as his pushy sister-in-law, Ian Christiansen as his philandering brother, and Janine Smith as his quiet but insightful Mother.

The finale, when Carla and Fabrizio marry, ends an exquisite journey of discovery. “The Light in the Piazza” continues to March 14. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or go online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A