Beautiful and beguiling musical of love
By Bradley Storer
A twinkling of strings on the harp, cascading into a glorious swirl of orchestral sound under the swell of a soaring and mellifluous soprano voice – from the very first moments of the opening night of The Light in the Piazza, Adam Guettel’s sumptuous score (gorgeously conducted by Vanessa Scammell) instantly swept us into the magically romantic landscape of Florence, Italy.
The entire cast, under the capable direction of Theresa Borg and in Kim Bishop’s stunning costumes, are close to flawless. Genevieve Kingsford as the childlike Clara Johnson has the unenviable task of depicting a character with a mental disability that is never fully explained, but Kingsford is a marvel in the part, sensitively balancing Clara’s innocence and openness with a fog of anxiety and confusion but never tips over into caricature. Her rich youthful soprano manages the difficult score with ease and her beautiful rendition of the eponymous song whipped the crowd into a roaring applause on opening night.
As Clara’s ardent suitor Fabrizio Naccarelli, Jonathon Hickey brought a bright and piercing tenor and a refreshing adolescent sincerity to the part – while his ‘Il Mondo Era Vuoto’ came off a touch too anguished, he harnessed a touching sensitivity in ‘Love to Me’. Anton Berezin was commanding and charming as Fabrizio’s father, while Josh Piterman as the older brother Giuseppe exuded charisma and flashy charm. Madison Green as Giuseppe’s long-suffering wife Franca managed to find the heart and kindness in a deeply wounded and embittered woman, as well as ably handling the trickiest moments of Guettel’s music.
The heart of this musical, however, is the central role of Margaret Johnson, the mother of Clara whose journey through the show embodies the conflict between the human search for love and the fear that true lasting love is nothing but an illusion. Chelsea Plumley sometimes pushes into moments of slight performativity as Margaret, but overall she nails the character’s charm, intelligence and courage, giving glorious voice to Margaret’s inner conflict as she addresses the audience in both direct dialogue and dramatically compelling song.
The backdrop of paintings and sculpture that fly in and out seamlessly, designed by Tom Willis, make a wonderful set and illustrate the libretto’s constant correlation of the characters’ plights with the figures of renaissance art, but at certain points they blocked the view of the action – physical transitions between scenes were sometimes made awkward by lighting that highlighted instead of concealing the cast and crew moving the scenery.
These small concerns aside, Life Like Company has produced an outstanding production that wonderfully captures the magic of this modern musical, captivating the audience from start to finish with its magnificent score and achingly-rendered story – heart-meltingly lovely and heart-breaking all at the same time.
Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.
Times: 8pm Friday and Saturday, 6pm Sunday
Dates: October 28 – November 6
Tickets: $65 – $135
Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au , 1300 182 183, at the box office.
Image by Ben Fon