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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Theatre Blog - The Light in the Piazza at Lakeland Civic Theatre

I must say that I am a bit emotionally transformed and artistically empowered after watching the performance of The Light in the Piazza at Lakeland Civic Theatre last night. This show is not an easy venture into the theatrical landscape. With the Book by Craig Lucas and the classical operatic Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel, challenges abound in producing this simple, yet complicated story. A story of a mother and daughter visiting Italy for the summer, encountering love among the classics of yesterday, and each fighting their own predisposition to succeed and resolve. Enter a young Italian man. His purity of heart pushes two families to address the age old adage "I am just doing what's best for my child". That seems like a worthy cause, but not always executed smoothly. However, executed with powerful grace and beauty under the direction of  Dr. Martin Friedman and the sublime Musical Direction of Jordan Cooper.

As I sit waiting for this event to unfold, I am taken in by the set and lighting ( masterfully interpreted by Trad A. Burns). Hanging muslin and iconic architecture accenting the stage that brings to life the drawings and works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. As Director Dr. Friedman states "sometimes you have to go back, to move forward". All of it is bathed in a wash of light reminiscent of Italian Lemon Ice. Setting the appropriate mood.

At first we meet, Margaret and Clara Johnson, coming into the Piazza with racing expectations of what they will uncover. You could never expect to know the secret at this point, and it is Margaret's job to keep it that way and protect her beautiful childlike daughter. Providing the loving barrier of the mother, masterfully played, is Sandra Emerick. She is the storyteller of sorts, having the ability to share asides with the audience that are both funny and at times, emotionally heartbreaking. Her prodigious voice excels throughout this production. I found myself attached to her emotional journey throughout the show. Being at the center of a vortex of love, but struggling with what reality can be. She has been in Florence before. She knows. But it is her relentless love for her child that reverberates in our hearts. 

When I listen to Clara, portrayed with resplendent honesty by Lindsey Sandham Leonard, it reminds me of "Touched by an Angel", when the angel reveals herself, she starts to glow. Her beauty and perfected characterization of Clara is delightful. Her complete immersion allows us to believe in unabashed honest love. At the same time, she reminds us that innocence can also reveal truths that are not covered up with years of learned manipulation. Her journey of probity becomes a lesson in strength and survival.

Several years ago, I attended The Wild Party at BW, and heard a young woman, Ciara Renee, sing. At that time, I said that I have never heard someone sing live like that in my life. It was stunning. I have to say that I experienced that moment again listening to Shane Patrick O'Neill inhabiting the world of Fabrizio Naccarelli. When he sings, Il Mondo Era Vuoto, everything is left on the boards. A magnificent celebration of voice, character and dialect. Never losing his Italian accent for a moment of acting or singing. Through his character we get to see lucid emotions of love and honesty for Clara. We follow his struggle with both families, trying to follow his unfeigned adoration for his love.

The Naccarelli family is a fluster buck of raw Italian emotion. Giuseppe Naccarelli (Eric Fancher) is a Goodfellas wanna be. Cavorting around the stage led my his crotch and his desire to find a mirror at all time. He adds some spice to the  family dynamics. Married to this bastion of bravado, is Franca (Neely Gevaart), who embodies her character with a tough exterior, but also lets us see her vulnerability. When she sings The Joy You Feel, she does just that.  She makes you feel. Her triumphant voice forces you to emotionally connect to the stuggle of what love is and how the path is not wine and roses. Raising these sons are Signor (Rob Albrecht) and Signora (Liz Huff) Naccarelli.  Albrecht gives a charismatic interpretation of the head of household if you will. Exploring family dynamics and critical decision making when love dictates what really is best. His duet with Emerick, Let's Walk, is arresting and compelling, even if he is a bit of a donnaiolo. And then there's Maude, oops, I mean Mama. That is only funny if you are as old as me. Liz Huff brings her operatic chops to the matron of the italian wedding soup party. She really comes to life in the Octet. Huff gets her own chance to aside as she enjoyably explains the proceedings within the walls of chaos. 

Rounding out the story is Roy Johnson (Michael Rogan), who is the golf obsessed husband of Margaret. Rogan delivers a textured portrayal. Enjoyable to watch, but also connecting the dots for us through simple conversation. Showing a side that we wish included more love, but recognizing a fierce loyalty to protect. Even willing to leave a golf game. To some, that is real love. Brian Mueller as the Priest serves us just right, and has a beautiful voice to boot. Antoinette Kula, not Kila, as the Tour Guide, has the distinct pleasure of being on stage in that character for less than 30 seconds, but getting a laugh. 

Elisha Mueller, Erin McManus, Jacki Komos, Anna White, Venessa Pintabona, Stephanie Harden, Johanna Regan round out the ensemble. All equipped with powerful voices to match the soaring score. Also, if you are a man, your odds of getting lucky in the Piazza are good. Men seems to be out in the field working a lot.

Stephanie Fisher did a beautiful job with the Costumes, and thanks to Eric Simna, it was a night of clear beautiful spoken word and melodic tones.

One last shout out to Jordan Cooper and the orchestra. Exquisitely done.

You should see this. Not the average musical. But every artist involved is pushed. 


January 31 - February 16
7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays

$7-$15 General Admission
(440) 525-7134

Lakeland Civic Theatre
7700 Clocktower Drive
Kirtland, Ohio 44094

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